140. Deeply and fully covered in love.

[John 21]

You had to know the fishermen of Galilee to write this account.  Nighttime was the best for fishing.  The catch described here is something that often happened on the lake.  The man with the net relied on the call or bell of someone who sat at a higher place to see where the shoals of fish were moving.  Jesus was acting as guide to the fishermen that day.

Jesus is only recognized when He reveals Himself to people.  Maybe the grey of dawn was still too dark for them to see Him clearly.  Again, love brought sight.  John saw and when Peter saw, he ran.  Peter was only in a loincloth like all fishermen when they worked.  He put on his tunic.  To greet somebody was holy (a religious act) and he clothed himself for it.

The chapter was obviously added to emphasize the reality of the resurrection.  Many would say that some of Jesus’ appearances were visions of the disciples, even hallucinations.  The Gospels all insisted that the risen Christ was a real person.  The tomb was empty and Christ had the wounds in His hands and side to prove it.

A vision was unlikely to point out the shoal of fish to the fishermen.  A vision was not likely to make a fire and fry fish on it for a meal to share.  John tells us in the previous chapter how Jesus showed His hands and side.  Jesus insisted that they touch Him to make His resurrection real and undisputed.

Jesus conquered death.  He made sure they had no doubt.

John names the number of fish for a reason.  A catch of 153 fishes had to be divided between the partners on the boat.  It was an exceptionally large catch but there is more.

According to the numbers and words of the ancient world hundred represented the fullness of the flock (Matthew 18:12).  The good seed in fertile ground was hundred-fold.  The number fifty represented the remnant of the Jews and the three is for the Trinity that does it all.

The net is the church, no exclusiveness or selectiveness.  It is big enough for all.  The church should embrace like Jesus did.

For the three times Peter denied the Lord, Jesus gave him three times to confirm his love for the Lord.  He most certainly knew Peter was full of guilt and shame about the denial, and He made sure to bring Peter to a place where love is the topic and not shameful failure.

With each declaration of love Peter received a task.  His declaration was to equip him for the task ahead.  Love is privilege but also responsibility.  In the end his love for Jesus had him die on a cross as well.  He was crucified upside down, because he did not feel worthy to die the same way Jesus did.  Incredibly the Romans obliged.  What courage Peter displayed that day, after the equipping of love on this day and the touch of fire to empower on the day of Pentecost.

Peter’s role in the early church was forever established.  He was a shepherd and he cared deeply for the flock of Jesus.

Jesus asked: Peter do you agapé Me?  Peter answered: Lord I phileo you.

Agapé is the amazing love of God for humankind.
It is defined like this: Unconditional love, love by choice and not by chance. Love by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill.  Agape will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind.  Agapé (noun) is the word for God’s unconditional love.  It does not need an affinity, chemistry or feeling.  It is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community.  It is virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.  It is as if the word existed in Greek and waited for Jesus to give content to its full meaning.

God loves unconditionally.  Jesus on the cross was proving God’s love in the deepest and most glorious way possible.

Peter knew he was not capable to love that way.  His uncertainty is reflected in the word he uses for love – phileo, which means brotherly love.

The second time Jesus asks: Peter, do you agapé Me? Peter answers: Lord I phileo you.

The third time Jesus asks: Peter, do you phileo Me? Peter answers: Lord, You know all things. You know that I phileo You.

Peter acknowledges his deficient love, very real and very truthful.  He acknowledges that Jesus knows this and there is no point in pretending.

One can almost feel the raw heart to heart communication that cuts to the bone of the matter.  Peter is restored and forgiven.  His relationship with Jesus is cemented in the love he experiences in the words of Jesus.  Jesus puts the whole burden of love for the church that will be birthed on the day of Pentecost on Peter.  He knows Peter is forever changed.  He knows just how deeply this man loves Him.

In the next passage (20:20-24) John says something of words spoken about himself.  Peter was already concerned for his fellow disciples and John was young.  Some say John was only 15 or 16 when he met Jesus.  Jesus tells Peter not to worry about his brethren.  Jesus will look after His own.

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.(John 10:28)

John, while writing this Gospel, bears witness to all this.  He was the one to write in his old age in Ephesus.  He was also the one looking after Mary.

Christianity is sealed in experience.  Meeting Jesus is the foundation of the Christian life.

Jesus says here: Do not worry about the task given to someone else. Your job is to follow me and do what I have given you to do.  Jesus is the perfect shepherd over His church and us.  He will manage our ministry.  If we venture out to minister like others or try to be something else than he ordained us to be, we are set up for failure and disappointment.  We cannot manage the whole church, big trends or doctrine.  We must do what the Holy Spirit gives us to do.

Christ is limitless.   His resurrection is real.  His church is universal.  No one competes in the Kingdom.  Peter is the shepherd and John is the witness.

John thinks upon the splendour of Jesus and knows that he could write to us so that we could only grasp a fragment of who Jesus really is.  He will reveal Himself.  The world can never fully comprehend.

When you think you know, then know that He is much, much more.

Our mind and our books fail miserably when we have to describe the indescribable.

John ends with the innumerable triumphs, the inexhaustible power, and the limitless grace of Jesus Christ. [William Barclay]

 

This brings us to the end of the study of John.  I hope that the many months we studied Revelation and the Gospel of John will serve as an inspiration for more deep diving into  the powerful Word of God.

 

 

 

 

 

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97. Look up and live.

We do not want to hear about judgment. We know about Jesus don’t we? He came to bear our sin, demonstrate the love of God and take the punishment and judgment of our sin upon Him on the cross and now all is good. Yet, we see so much sin, hell and disaster around us every day. What is going on?

Sin has consequences. We all know the story of the Garden of Eden. How the serpent, which we all know is the satan, God’s adversary, reasoned with Eve and convinced her to eat of the fruit she was not supposed to and on top of it all, gave Adam to eat as well, so that both of them hid from the face of God. Sin exposed them as naked, where they felt so safe in the sinless presence of God, they were not even aware of their nakedness. Very famously satan came as a serpent, a cunning snake. The use of the word serpent indicates a snake in mythological or religious context. We would write serpent and talk about snake – it is the same creature.

Here in John 3:14-15 he mentions a strange story in the Old Testament recorded in Numbers 21:4-9.

The chapter in Numbers begins with a great victory over the Canaanites, when Israel vowed to God to fully destroy all their cities if God will give the Canaanite army into their hands. The battle was won and the captured Israelites saved. Just into the next verses the complaining begins:

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

God sent venomous snakes among them and many died. They came running to Moses to pray to God to deliver them in their fight against the snakes. So Moses prayed and God said:

“Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

We think it is terrible that so many people died. Our knowledge of God has grown in Jesus. We know God is good and intend good for us. What about sending snakes? The interpretation of life coming from the old prophets was that everything came from God – good and bad. Today we know, that the bad is the consequences of sin that keeps this world in brokenness and hostility to God. Today still people die because of sin. In all their brokenness they still reject God, while He is waiting for their cry for help to bring deliverance.

The serpents were the symbol of the killing power of rebellion against God.

The story illustrates the destructive power of complaining in your personal wilderness way. If you say your soul loathes this “worthless bread”, it is a complaint against the provision of the Lord in your life.

John Bevere shocked me into right thinking when he made the statement: Complaining is like saying to God: I don’t like what You are doing in my life and if I were You I would have done it differently.

There is so much gospel in this. Jesus declared in these verses, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so the Son of man must be lifted up, that those who believe in him, should not perish. We could compare our modern diseases with the sting of our broken world. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Then compare the application of their remedy to ours. They looked up and lived, and if we believe, we shall not perish. It is by faith that we look unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

 The snakes are called fiery because of their effects. Their poison caused an intolerable heat and burning and thirst in the bodies of the Israelites, which was aggravated with the circumstances of the place: that here was no water. The method of cure was prescribed, so that it would be clear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature. The serpent signified Christ, who on the cross, looked like sinful man, but was not, just like the bronze snake looked like a snake but was not poisonous.

 Do we trust God fully with our lives? Are we willing to submit to His healing and cleansing power when things get rough? What is your reaction to adverse circumstances? So many of us would slam the door and shout our frustration onto the bewildered loved ones around us, in stead of fleeing into our prayer-closet and submit our thinking and insight to see in the Spirit the cross as the symbol of our healing.

The story of the serpent in the desert is continued:

The verb to lift up is hupsoun. It is the same word that is used to describe Jesus being lifted up upon the Cross (John 8:28,12:32) and it is used to tell of Jesus being lifted up into glory at the time of His ascension into heaven (Acts 2:33, 5:31 and Philippians 2:9).

Jesus was lifted on the Cross, and then into glory. The one could not happen without the other.

A life unaltered is a glory-less life. First we accept the cross, then the crown. How would we as arrogant and selfish sinful man even think of the cross if we do not have to battle the snakes in our desert? Our circumstances draw us to the miracle-working God for outcome and relief. If our circumstances distance us away from God, it is the most profound tragedy of life there could be. Our circumstances are prompting us to cry out to our loving Father that will change us into His glory.

This changed life is the life of excellence we seek. A life well lived is for sure not the wealthy, super glamorous party life of excess and indulgence that the world promises.

To believe that God is what Jesus declared Him to be was difficult for the Jews, just as it is difficult today for the unbeliever to believe that God is good and wants the best for every person. For the Jews, God was a law-giver and punisher, demanding sacrifices and a price paid for sin. A loving God was almost impossible to grasp.

To believe that Jesus would know God because He is the Son of God, was even more incomprehensible. To accept Jesus, was to accept His message, to acknowledge that He knew the Father and brought absolute truth. Their rigid thinking and preconceived ideas about God made this recognition of Jesus almost impossible. Only allowing the Holy Spirit to convict of the Truth, as Jesus said He would, could bring us new insight and fuller understanding of God.

To believe is to risk everything on this truth. To cast our life and all we hold dear onto God and throw ourselves at His mercy in unquestioning obedience.

Eternal life promises we are at peace with God, at home with our Father and at peace with men to live as forgiven and forgiving those around us. We are at peace with life, believing all things would work together for good, not so much to understand everything better, but to feel safe in our evil and destructive world. Eternal life gives us peace with ourselves when we depend on Jesus for everything and are not terrified of our own weaknesses. Eternal life gives us a glimpse of the greater peace to come, a life where the best is yet to be, higher and better than we could ever imagine.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:16-17, The Message)

This verse is everybody’s favourite. It is the essence of the Gospel.

The initiative of all salvation is in God. God sent His son. He loved us to send the sinless One to reconcile us to God. It gets rid of all the misconceptions of an angry, punishing God.

Why? Because of love. Mankind is drawn and disciplined by love. God is acting for our sake, not His own to satisfy love, not to bring things to order. He is a father and he cannot rest before his wandering children are home.

The full extent of His love is the world – not a nation or a person. He loves the whole, wide, unlovable, unlovely and lonely world. Those who reject His love and never thinks of God are ALL included.

As Augustine said it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

Here it is again. The full definition of the word lying dormant in the Greek language until one man gave content to a love so great that the full extent had to be expressed in the cruel death on a cross, yet so powerful and unconquerable that it saves, redeems and renew into eternity.

Love = Agapao (verb)

Unconditional love, love by choice and by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill. Agapao will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind. Agape (noun) is the word for God’s unconditional love. It does not need an affinity, chemistry or feeling. It is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community. It is virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.

 

 

 

60. Could this be love?

Our world defines love very specifically, even arrogantly as if anybody knows what it really means. The world around us would like to be the all and everything of perfect love. It might be in a moment’s sexual pleasure – of course, that is why they say they “make love”. It might be in small or gigantic charitable deeds, when people’s efforts are measured against the destruction and vengeance of the beast and the tragedy surrounding us. Whatever this world might think love is, it can never measure up to the Source of love, the One by whom we are all being made able to love.

Ancient Greek had four words for love – philia meaning brotherly love and love of friendship, thus love between equals, eros, meaning romantic love and storgé, meaning love or affection between children and their parents, mostly used for family relationships or patriotism and “loving” a sports team.

The fourth word agapé was hardly used in ancient texts outside the New Testament. The Greek language had the word, but it is as if it lay in waiting to be defined by the Source of love in human form. Jesus used it. Just the definition would blow you away by the sheer force of the power that the word itself exerts.

Agapé is unconditional love; love by choice and by act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill. Agapao will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind. Agapao (verb) and agapé (noun) are the words for God’s unconditional love. It does not need chemistry, an affinity or a feeling. Agapé is a love by choice, rather than philos, which is love by chance, engaging the will rather than emotion. It is a self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return and does not consider the worth of its object.

Agapao is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community. It is a love virtually unknown to the writers outside the New Testament. It is a word to which Christianity gave meaning. It was rarely used in Greek philosophy and writers of ancient Greek wisdom.

This definition of God’s love must be firmly established in our minds by prayerful meditation as we consider the sixteenth chapter of Revelation.

The seven angels are ready with the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Remember, all calamity is geared to bring people to repentance. God is waiting for the cry of the afflicted to provide salvation and outcome and is ever ready to provide for all by powerful, miraculous intervention.

The plagues mentioned here remind us of the ten plagues of Egypt, although they do not exactly correspond in all the details.

For the sake of our study – here is a short summary of what we know.

 First, we set out the ten plagues when Moses confronted Pharaoh with the wrath of God.

(i) The water made into blood (Exodus 7:20-25).

(ii) The frogs (Exodus 8:5-14).

(iii) The lice (Exodus 8:16-18).

(iv) The flies (Exodus 8:20-24).

(v) The plague on the cattle (Exodus 9:3-6).

(vi) The boils and sores (Exodus 9:8-11).

(vii) The thunder and the hail (Exodus 9:22-26).

(viii) The locusts (Exodus 10:12-19).

(ix) The darkness (Exodus 10:21-23).

(x) The slaying of the first-born (Exodus 12:29-30).

Second, we set out the terrors, which followed the sounding of the seven trumpets.

 

(i) The coming of hail, fire and blood, through which a

third part of the trees and all the green grass are withered (Revelation 8:7).

(ii) The flaming mountain cast into the sea, whereby one third of the sea becomes blood (Revelation 8:8).

(iii) The fall of the star Wormwood into the waters, whereby the waters become bitter and poisonous (Revelation 8:10-11).

(iv) The smiting of one third of the sun and the moon and the stars, whereby all is darkened (Revelation 8:12).

(v) The coming of the star who unlocks the pit of the abyss, from which comes the smoke out of which come the demonic locusts (Revelation 9:1-12).

(vi) The loosing of the four angels bound in the Euphrates and the demonic cavalry from the east (Revelation 9:13-21).

(vii) The announcement of the final victory of God and of the rebellious anger of the nations (Revelation 11:15).

Third, we set out the terrors of this chapter.

(i) The coming of the ulcerous sores upon men (Revelation 16:2).

(ii) The sea becoming like the blood of a dead man (Revelation 16:3).

(iii) The rivers and fountains becoming blood (Revelation 16:4).

(iv) The sun becoming scorchingly hot (Revelation 16:8).

(v) The darkness over the kingdom of the beast, and its agony (Revelation 16:10).

(vi) The drying up of the Euphrates to open a way for the hordes of the kings of the east (Revelation 16:12).

(vii) The pollution of the air and the terrors in nature, the thunder, the earthquake, the lightning and the hail (Revelation 16:17-21).

The trumpets have a limit, one third of the earth. Trumpets always called to alert the people to repentance and return to God. The bowls’ destruction is comprehensive and final on the enemies of God.

NOTE: the terrors befall the unbelievers.

… came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. (Revelation 16:2)

 In this final series of terrors John seems to have gathered together the horrors from all the stories of the avenging wrath of God and to have hurled them on the unbelieving world in one last terrible deluge of disaster. [William Barclay]

The first four hit the environment. The last three hit the realm of the beast. The brief descriptions suggest simultaneous execution, rather than successive development. It is not only physically; the calamities are felt in the spiritual realm as well.

God’s loud voice unleashes the terror.

Sores are a direct consequence of disobedience, as described in Deuteronomy 28:35.

So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome boils and agonizingly painful sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. (Job 2:7)

Water that turns into blood makes water as life-giving source to become the source of death. The disaster hits every source of earth’s water. There is no escape for God’s enemies in the final judgment. The church is always the first to suffer from persecution. The blood of the saints becomes death to the world. Every living creature in the sea dying depicts final and full judgment.

The judgment is retributive; it is of equal weight to the crime.

The voice of the altar (16:7) speaks of Christ’s suffering and blood. The voice of the martyrs calls for judgment. The altar is the place where the prayers of the saints and lives of martyrs are offered.

To the Christian, even darkness is not bad. Darkness as described here as thick darkness is confusing and scary, but in Exodus 20:21 Moses found God in the darkness.

 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

 “Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. (Deuteronomy 4:11 and 5:22)

That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Zephaniah 1:15)

The day of the Lord, is a day of rejoicing for God’s people. For us, there are treasures in the darkness, to be discovered with the help of our Lord who brings outcome and victory in all and every situation.

I will give you the treasures of darkness

And hidden riches of secret places, (Isaiah 45:3)

There is a disturbing refrain in 16: 9,11 and 21. The judged curse God. Even as they could see God’s hand, they obstinately reject His call. So often today we hear the argument how can a God of love allow such suffering? It is the refrain of the pigheaded, unmoved in their affliction. My response is that if they think, by the asking of the question, that He is powerful enough to make a difference, it will be worth their while to talk to Him about it. Just ask Him. If anyone acknowledges His power to control what is happening, He is worthy of worship.

For John the throne of the beast is Rome. Rome is persecuting the church. In the spiritual world it is all out war, and it has never stopped.

The drying up of water is a sign of God’s power (16:12). He did it at the Red Sea and the Jordan. It was done in God’s vengeance as described in Jeremiah 51:36 and Zechariah 10:11.

When Persia defeated Babylon the hostile army dried up the Euphrates. They deflected the river into a lake and followed the dry path into the city. The drying up of water suggests entrance of the enemy. Water is life giving and the sources of it like rivers, fountains, and wells, suggest blessing. God makes rivers in the desert and gives the water of life as outcome in our life’s desert just as He did for the Israelites in the desert. There are many, many scriptures in the Old Testament to support this. For example:

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,

And floods on the dry ground;

I will pour My Spirit on your descendants,

And My blessing on your offspring; (Isaiah 44:3)

In the words of Jesus:

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. (16:13)

Unclean spirits are likened to frogs. Speech is powerful. The word for spirit in Greek is pneuma, which means breath. The false trinity breathes evil forces. Unclean beings bring unclean influence. In the Persian religion it was known that frogs bring plagues. The words of the false trinity are empty lies that only bring plagues and torment.

The church is warned against the false prophet in Mark 13:22.

For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

 True religion’s worst enemy is impostors and deceivers. They falsely interpret the Word. They can do miracles and signs and seduce people way from true worship with false doctrines. Paul and John in his epistle write grave warnings against impostors and false doctrine. We need the Holy Spirit to warn our inner beings against these teachings.

Compare Revelation 16:15 with 3:18. We, the church, are ready for whatever it takes. Problems come unexpectedly and there could be no shame, when we have our white robes, gold and eye salve to discern and walk in victory within disaster. Deliverance of shame is an important promise. Our suffering is worthy and highly esteemed in the eyes of God. Indescribable blessing awaits the over comers.

Armageddon as the final conflict is an old idea found amongst others in Psalm 2. Magedon (various spelling) is the plain between Egypt and Damascus on the highway. It was a popular battlefield in Hebrew history. Armageddon is the city and Harmageddon the mountain. Ezekiel 38 and 39 predict the battle of Gog and Magog would be won in the mountains of Israel.

Our battle is not physical; it is spiritual against the frogs (demonic powers). The seventh bowl affects the air, which is also a source of life. Nature itself makes war on sin. There are earthquakes like never before. Babylon is split and its power destroyed.

Islands and mountains change in this ongoing struggle. Islands grow and are destroyed throughout history. Hail is a well-known judgment on the enemies of God’s people as found in Joshua 10:11, Isaiah 28:2 and Ezekiel 38:22. Hail, fire and brimstone (sulfur) are indicative of volcanoes. Earthquakes, volcanoes and meteorological storms are daily occurrences over the earth today. We are made aware of this through global media reports on worldwide scientific data collection of natural disasters.

God remembered Babylon and will act upon the wickedness (16:19).

Men can lock their hearts to God. Choice is the great gift to mankind. Even in the fiercest misfortune, men can resist the call of God’s love.

But for us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

It is only in the knowledge of what we inherit that we could pray that God shares a measure of His love through us. We do not have love and we cannot love by ourselves. We only love with a measure of what God is. He is the Source of all love, even the love that the ungodly shows. There is no other source of love. We can only love with the love of Jesus.

Now that you know about the evil, the consequences of sin, do you recognize the love?

 

46. Your name is written.

Man exists in community. Other people know your name. Your name brings either vague memories of a fleeting meeting, or clear impressions of laughter, love and friendship. In other relationships you meet people to broaden your education at school and college, or to learn from in church or mentoring, formally or informally, however you choose. How special is that sought-after invitation to you by name to an event where the host will lavish food and drink upon you on an extravagant occasion.

Parents never forget the names of their children. Whatever a child may choose to do for the good or the bad, their names are engraved in the hearts of their parents. There might be distance, geographically or emotionally, but their names are forever written in the heart of a parent, not only to be remembered in neutrality and composure, but certainly with longing that brings joy or tears. It is most unusual for a parent to distance himself or herself from a child and when it happens – and it does – it brings overwhelming anguish, heartbreak and emotional trauma. On the other hand, children are expected to leave home and make their own lives, and still, full rejection of parents with neglected contact or none at all, causes a deep sense of loss.

Do you know the feeling when somebody calls your name or knows your name amongst thousands? It is so much more than being a number or just a face among many.

God will never forget your name. He has given you life. Whatever you may choose in life, to reject His love or to respond to His call, He knows you. Hear, truly hear the Word of God, in the deep, anointed singing voice of the ancient prophet Isaiah that echoes through the ages. God says:

Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” Isaiah 43:7

For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. Isaiah 45:4

Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number. He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power. Not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1

I was a little girl when my mother told me about a gigantic, beautiful desk, a fine, polished leather book inscribed with gold and an enormous angel with a golden quill. My imagination of the scribe of heaven ran wild. I have always loved books, fascinated to this day with calligraphy and all things to do with paper and stationery. How could I ever conjure an accurate picture of the Lamb’s Book of Life and my name written there? In Malachi 3 our names are written in the Book of Remembrance before the Lord as we speak His name and He listens, rejoicing about us and doing good to us.

Pebble pal, your name is written. Rejoice as we hear the word of God to the church.

Sardis – the dead church.

The city of Sardis stood on a ridge of which the sides were smoothly precipitous. It was approachable from one side only, making it almost impregnable. The ridge was too small for expansion, causing the city to expand to the valley. Sardis was therefore divided into two parts – high and low. It was a wealthy city with lots of gold available from mines in the region. The king of Sardis was defeated in war with Persia. During the battle he retreated to higher part of the city, leaving the precipice unguarded, believing it was impenetrable. One Persian soldier found a way up and led the troops up to find the city completely unprepared for the fight. The whole scenario was repeated in a battle with Alexander the Great. With Rome ruling, Sardis was the centre of the wool trade. After a destructive earthquake in 17 AD, the city lost its luster, life and energy. It became symbolic of lost enthusiasm; lacking a sense of duty. Although it was still important for trade it was not inspiring or aspiring to anybody or anything.

Jesus holds the seven spirits (the fullness of the Holy Spirit) and seven stars (the seven churches depicting the whole church). He is the symbol of the comprehensive anointing of the Spirit of the Lord according to Isaiah 11:2. Not one will be snatched from His hand. Jesus holds on to them and will not let go. He informs them of their reputation of deadness and urges them to repent and change their ways. An accusation of pretense is serious. The church should be the answer to the world. It might pretend to be, but it is dead inside and no solution to the need of the unbelievers.

Hear the call of God – wake up. There is still time to do the work necessary. Isaiah called for Jerusalem to wake up. We, the church, heed the call:

Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise… Isaiah 52.

Whereas she who lives for pleasure and self-indulgence is spiritually dead even while she still lives. 1 Timothy 5:6.

Timothy warns against pretense as a form of godliness, but denying the power of the true Gospel. (Timothy 3:5) The sinful church is weak and ineffective. We are called to make a difference and live as God’s love-solution to the wickedness around us.

The words of the father of the prodigal son rings true:

 … for this son of mine was [as good as] dead and is alive again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:24

And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13.

Sin brings death. It is the death of our will, when we cannot break the bad habits. Sin is the death of feelings, when our conscience dies.

Sin is the death of beauty and loveliness, when the craving for power and lust becomes ugly and vulgar.

Although the church receives no formal commendation, the Spirit mentions the remnant, the ones with undefiled garments, in 3:4. They are found worthy to walk with Jesus, clothed in white.

Jesus challenges the church to remember the truth that they have received and repent. To be watchful, is to learn from city’s history and never be unprepared for the spiritual battle.

The only way to remember the truth is to turn back to the Cross of Jesus and the Word.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Keep alert to be wise and recognize the ways of evil and false teaching. The promise illustrates the eternity of glory in the presence of Christ when we are clothed for the wedding feast, our names are written in the Book of Life, which is the record of the redeemed to be announced in the Throne room of heaven. The Lamb’s Book of Life is mentioned often in Revelation. (13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15)

Moses speaks of the book God has written – Exodus 32:32.

Writing in a book in the Presence of God is mentioned in Psalm 69:28, Daniel 12:1, Malachi 3:16, Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3.

In the ancient church white clothes were put on after baptism to symbolize festivity, purity and victory. Jesus will clothe us in the robe of righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

In our beautiful garment our name is announced, not by the footman or doorkeeper, but by Jesus before the Father and the angels.

It is important to again realize that this state of affairs is not for one day in the distant future. It is happening now. Restoration takes place at this instant on the act of repentance. Our names are written and announced right now and the powerful impact of this state of affairs reverberates in our everyday lives. We are called to the table of feasting even in the wilderness of evil and brokenness around us. Psalm 23.

Philadelphia – the faithful church

This is the youngest of the cities called by a name derived from the Greek word philadelphos that means one who loves his brother.

The city was founded for a specific reason: to spread Greek culture, language and philosophy by peaceful means. It has been given an open door by history to pave the way and to know the manner in which to spread the Gospel.

The city was situated on the edge of a great volcanic plain, which made it very fertile, especially for grape-growing. It became famous for good wine.

The earthquake of 17 AD in the region also hit Philadelphia. The city felt tremors for years after, causing daily panic when cracks appeared. The residents were too afraid to live inside the city. They lived outside the city limits in huts. Those who remained inside often fled for their lives.

The inhabitants of Philadelphia could appreciate the promise: – they will go out no more, (3:12). The city was also familiar with new names. It was given a new name after the ruins were rebuilt by Tiberius [Neocaesarea – new city of Caesar] and again Flavia after the family name of Vespasian. Later, the name Philadelphia, was restored.

Throughout history the city withstood onslaughts of the Turks and Muslims. For centuries it was a free Greek city and the last bastion of Asian Christianity. Philadelphia fell to Islam in the 14th century, but to this day there is a remnant of Christians with a bishop.

[Today Smyrna is Izmir and Philadelphia is Alasehir in Turkey. All the other cities mentioned in Revelation are only ruins.]

Christ is described as Holy, which means different and separate, a confirmation of the description in Isaiah 6:3, 40:25,43:15.

Christ is described as True. There are two words for true. Alethes – which contrasts true as opposed to false and alethinos, which expresses real as opposed to unreal. Christ is declared real.

The key of David depicts authority to admit into the New Jerusalem. (Isaiah 22:22) Jesus is the door:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9.

Jesus opens the door into the Presence of the Father through our prayer and worship. No one can shut the door. Christ gives entrance to the church, which He commends for faithfulness in difficult circumstances. There are always tests in this world in which we must persevere. We need endurance in times of testing. (Hebrews 10:36)

Christ who comes quickly depicts times of trouble where we learn to know Him in the fullness of His redemptive power. If we do not need His miracles and salvation, we will never know what He can do and how He works His righteousness in our lives to transform us into His likeness and build our character to be the true church.

It is in times of trouble that Christ is revealed in His church. It is for this present life, just like the parable of the ten virgins illustrates. Only His wisdom and His Spirit will reveal the deception in the church of those who lie about their identity and are called the synagogue of Satan. Note that the warning is about the falseness IN the church.

The church receives no condemnation, only warning and comfort.

The challenge is to hold on and persist to receive the promise and not lose the crown of victory. (Hebrews 10:36-39)

A long list of promises is made. The church will receive recognition from within and a secure place in tribulation. A pillar in the Temple of God depicts a place of honour and dignity. Security and steadfastness in faith will bring stability.

The name of God and the name of the church, the New Jerusalem, which is written on us, will serve as a branding of love, marked by God’s honour and victory. We will enjoy the privilege of heaven with a new name.

So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:27.

All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.” Ezekiel 48:35.

This is heaven – the Lord is there. What more can we ever want.

Laodicea – the lukewarm church

Nothing good is said about this church – a grim distinction from the others. The ancient world had six cities called by this name.

This particular city was important only because of its location. The highway to the East went right through the city. Travelers entered by the Ephesian gate and exited by the Syrian gate.

It was a commercial and strategic centre for banking and finance. The citizens were so rich that they could rebuild the city after the earthquake with their own money. They argued that they did not need Rome or God.

It was also a centre for manufacturing of clothing and well known for the soft, violet-black wool used for the making of outer garments called trimita. The clothing industry was prosperous and proud of it. Spiritually they were naked in the sight of God.

The city was a medical centre famous for eye and ear ointment. Spiritually they did not recognize their blindness.

The words of the risen Christ speak directly to the pride and wealth of the citizens. There was a large population of Jews who were wealthy and influential. The city governor put a ban on the export of currency since so many Jews paid temple tax to Jerusalem. They then paid their temple tax in gold and consequently this was seized as contraband.

Christ is the Amen as stated in Isaiah:

So that he who blesses himself in the earth

Shall bless himself in the God of truth;

And he who swears in the earth

Shall swear by the God of truth; Isaiah 65:16.

It is a solemn statement that guarantees truth. Christ is utterly reliable and true beyond all doubt. Jesus often said: “very truly I tell you”. (Greek = Amen)

He is the faithful and true witness. In Hebrew a statement is often repeated for impact and confirmation. Only few people could read and the letters, prophecies and law were read to an assembly of listeners. To repeat was to emphasize importance through the spoken word so that the audience can remember.

Christ is the beginning of creation, creator of all things (John 1:3).

In Him are all things (Colossians 1:16). He is more that just the beginning; He is the source of all.

Sin and death were caused by the choices of man, not God. God creates and redeems.

The word used for cold is psuchros which means to the point of freezing. Zestos is boiling hot. Tepid or lukewarm is chliaros in Greek. In the neighbouring town was mineral water. When you drink it hot, it had healing power, but lukewarm it made you vomit.

Indifference is hard to break. It is only broken in a committed and loving church so that people are saved. Neutrality is impossible. Non-submission to Christ is resistance to the Gospel.

Meaningless Christianity is strongly condemned and emphasized by the gross description of nausea and vomiting.

The condemnation is fierce: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. (3:17)

The city was physically rich, but spiritually poor. Gold was real in the city, but spiritually of no use. Money does not buy character.

The counsel to the church is to buy from Jesus. Salvation is free, but our character is bought in the refiner’s fire. Our testimonies of miracles and answer to prayer, our faith is gold in the eyes of heaven.

… that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 1:7.

Clothing is the remedy for the shame of nakedness, which causes humiliation:

“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts;

“I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame. Nahum 3:5.

God honours his people by fine garments, like Joseph, Daniel, Esther and the prodigal son. The beauty that only Christ can give is our white garments. It is soul fashion. The garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3) covers us when sin brings depression, shame, and failure.

With our robe of righteousness we are suitable for the Lord’s presence. It is such a beautiful scripture to be memorized. Here I quote it again:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has covered me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

The church knows what is suitable to God. The entire content of the letters to the Romans and the Galatians is aimed to purify and prepare the church. (Romans 13:14, Colossians 3:9). The Pharisees had fine garments and still they were naked before Christ.

 Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:14)

Next, the church is recommended to buy eye- salve. Everything in life is dependant on vision. Can we see the lie? Can we see the outcome? Hagar flees into the desert after the row with Sarah. (Genesis 16:14 and 21) She almost succumbs to thirst and put the child away from her to be far removed from the cruel death she expects. Her eyes do not see the well. The well was there, but her bitterness and self-pity made her blind. It is God who opens our eyes to see our answers.

This is a super important spiritual principle. Let us together always pray the blind man’s prayer: Lord, that I can see.

Jesus states that He chastens those He loves. His love is described in Greek with the word agapan, which expresses unconditional love. It is an unconquerable attitude of goodwill, which nothing can turn into hate or indifference.

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12

The word used for rebuke is elegchein, which means that the receiver of the rebuke is compelled to see the error. It is not punishment, rather illumination and insight.

Ephesians 4:17-19 describes the darkness in the minds of the unbeliever. We receive correction and insight and rejoice in it. It is further explained in several scriptures to illustrate that the crushed grape makes the wine. (Psalm 94:12, Job 5:17, Hebrews 11:6-8,12)

God is knocking at the door of this church. It is frightening to think of Christ outside the church. The remedy is to let Him in. He knocks as the lover of your soul and the lover of souls. The handle of your heart is on the inside and operated only by choice.

No other religion has the vision of a seeking God.

 The word for meal is deipnon. It was the most important meal of the day in the evening with time to linger in fellowship. For most ordinary working people breakfast was light and fast and lunch mostly on the road or in the field. Jesus present at the evening meal pictures a time of complete fulfillment.

A throne in the east was more a couch than a single seat. A victorious throne is to be shared with Christ. Just note the high reward to a disappointing church. God loves His church and will correct so that He can bless.

Thank you Lord Jesus for never letting us go. No sin, shame and blindness can ever separate us from the love of God.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rejoice in the declaration of Paul in Romans 8. We share the victorious throne and nothing can change that. If God is for us, what or who can prevail against us?

12. Let there be light!

Only One has ever said: I am the Light of the world.

PebblesLight

Out of timeless darkness and disorder came the voice of Almighty God – Elohim. A world emerged – bold and big and beautiful to the applause and admiration of heaven’s hosts. As the foundations of the earth arose to its mighty measurements angels praised the excellence of animals and plants. Sun and moon illuminated the most magnificent of creation as man and woman walked in perfect harmony with Creation and Creator.

O Lord, Our Lord, How excellent is Your Name in all the earth.  Psalm 148

Hallelujah!

Praise God from heaven,

    praise him from the mountaintops;

Praise him, all you his angels,

    praise him, all you his warriors,

Praise him, sun and moon,

    praise him, you morning stars;

Praise him, high heaven,

    praise him, heavenly rain clouds;

Praise, oh let them praise the name of God—

    he spoke the word, and there they were!

 He set them in place

    from all time to eternity;

He gave his orders,

    and that’s it!

This song praises the Creator-God in all His glory and splendour. In the very beginning God spoke Light and brought order to chaos and darkness.

But deep down in a fiery pit of fury, a dark and evil cloud of smoke

billowed around a murderous plan. The enemy of the Creator – in frenzy arose, to destroy, defile, disable and divorce. In a moment of overwhelming deception, he devoured the crown of creation in disgrace and disaster.

Everything changed – rhythm interrupted. Man and woman ran and hid. Animals paused as instinct warned of the cruelty and chaos to come.

O what have you done? came explosions of blame in their minds. Through the blur of pain and confusion, came the Voice they knew and now feared . Where are you? He visited in love and longing to reach out, to comfort and cover, never to condemn, ready to forgive and talk it over.

Again the Creator spoke – to declare the Promise of victory, hope and grace. He spoke of One Who will be the Light forever. The One that restores all that was lost – a Messiah of love and salvation to rise in exalted victory over the enemy of God and man.

It was then that the battlefield was chosen. Not a plain set up in horses and soldiers – no guns, swords or atom bombs, nor the roar of canon fire.

A scorned hill outside Jerusalem with a cross, a man, a few shocked soldiers, and those remarkable women, silent in unspeakable sorrow.

Our world today is awash with fantacies of wonderful creative writers in all walks of life – good and bad. Max Lucado is a crowned Christian author who published a collection of Christmas stories. It is truly recommended reading and one of my favourites is: An Angel’s Story – telling the nativity drama from Gabriel’s perspective. It is such a joy to include a reading of one of his stories as part of our Christmas celebration to put the focus on Christ, right where it belongs.

Allow me to give you a taste of Lucado’s story, in my own words with emphasis on the blessing I received from his writing.

As Gabriel entered the throne room of the Almighty God, he bowed deep in reverence and worship. Stepping into the shadowless presence of his King, joy flooded his being en worship flowed spontaneously as countless times before. As the chief messenger of heaven, Gabriel stood ready for the words to send him off. He felt the joy and peace of God’s presence rising in his innermost. He knew that what he felt was the life-force of his existence.

He listened in awe, as the magnitude of the message became clear. Together with the rest of heaven’s beings, he knew how impossible it was for sinful man to enter the very place where he now stood.

He often witnessed the rituals and rules of animal sacrifices and other sacred rites, where the shedding of innocent blood had to clear the way for the people of God to worship in a small, dull, earthly replica of heaven’s tabernacle. Once a year, after all conditions had been fulfilled, only the high priest entered into the holy of Holies to plead for his people. Instant death followed arrogance and pretence. Only a humble and contrite heart entered the most revered place on earth.

Now, the King of Glory spoke again, just as in the days of creation. It is time to bridge the gap, to fulfill the promise, to crush the enemy, to win the war, to draw near as never before. Gabriel received the message and trembled as the impact of the words settled in his mind.

God Himself? He bowed again. Yes, God confirmed, I will go.

The Plan and the Player were ready, already since the beginning. Gabriel prepared to depart. As he left the heavenly throne, the music and voices of praise rose to fill the gates of the universe.

The message was delivered, quietly and lovingly – received in shocked surprise. Gabriel’s messag was clear, even the name. Jesus, you have to call the son of God, Yeshua, he told Mary. In the name was the one-word fulfillment of all prophecy and God’s answer to all need on earth – He shall save!

As he spoke to the young girl with a willing heart, the seed of God himself settled in her womb. In the obedience of one, the victory of heaven was set in motion. In a full understanding of the life of Mary, one can never again think that one person can not make a difference. Her obedience and humble submission to Gabriel’s message changed history and the destiny of mankind for all eternity.

One particular nightwatch of a few shepherds outside Bethlehem turned out to be the most significant of their lives. Looking after the lambs raised to be sacrificed, they heard the glorious announcement. Heaven’s praise descended and announced the birth of a boy in a stable. They ran, noticing a special star over the place that held the human body of the God of the universe.

Most other people slept through the announcement of His visitation to earth, not even realizing that their timeline was cut, their old customs and struggles were to change forever.

God came to announce the new order, the ultimate victory for every man. Still creation’s first gift, the gift of choice, remained unchanged. God visits only by choice!

The boy grew and slowly made Himself known. He lived amongst us, walked the paths, suffered the sorrow, proclaiming the heart of God. He offered life full of favour, free of fear. He taught the willing and fed the hungry. He healed the desperate and pleading, He forgave the condemned and hated, He loved the lost and lifted the lowly.

Need drew Him, humility impressed Him, faith evoked His power, unbelief angered Him. His words established the kingdom of heaven on earth, and determined history of the next centuries.

Just as the splendour of the earthly kingdom revealed in creation drew the fury of Satan, the power of the heavenly kingdom established by Jesus on earth in the hearts of the willing, evoked a hellish plot!

MURDER clouded Satan’s vision. The arrogance and pride that made him what he is, gave him the courage to set out and ….. kill GOD! He screamed and schemed. He fed on the blindness of the church and confirmed his plan in unbelieving rulers.

Again the world was sleeping when, in the darkness of Gethsemane, the son of God struggled with his destiny …. and won. Was it Gabriel, the majestic messenger, that visited the garden to impart strength for the ultimate sacrifice?

On the cross His cry of anguish became the victory of the unshakable kingdom – creation reconciled. Satan roared in premature celebration as darkness descended for three hours on that bleak and black Friday outside Jerusalem. But the Deceiver deceived himself. Death could never be his victory.

Death only emphasized life.

Was Gabriel the powerful Angel of Revelation 5?: [The Message]

I also saw a powerful Angel, calling out in a voice like thunder, “Is there anyone who can open the scroll, who can break its seals?”

Heaven went silent. In motionless anticipation they waited. Through the colossal pillars of the glorious throne room, Jesus entered and took the scroll. The 24 elders and the four living beings fell down and sang a new song, a song that has never been heard before:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honour and glory and blessing!

Gabriel joined in the praises of the 24 elders and the living beings singing :

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty – the one who always was, who is and who is still to come.

Praises flowed spontaneously from all the heavenlies. Victory was complete, the price was paid. Everything was new and perfect as in the days of creation. Man walked with God again. In the poverty and persecution of the first church, the miraculous power of the glorious throne room flowed through those Christian pioneers to encourage and enable.

Over more than two thousand years, God’s people carried a message of love and salvation. Outwardly, the church had many faces, many vices and many voices. Inwardly, looking with new eyes – anointed eyes – the message to the shepherds is echoing in the hearts of millions. That message is the true one, the life-changing one, the rock of truth that stood the test of time. Just as the Voice of the Almighty established the earth in its foundations, His Word still sets the foundation of His true church.

Tonight you have heard the angels singing, you have heard the announcement of His birth made, exactly as it has been done for two thousand years, every year, since the first one.

Have you for one moment thought that He has ceased calling His flock? Why would God suddenly be silent? Where are you? Out in the fields, looking after the sheep and thus awake? Or fast asleep, unaware that the God of the universe is calling out in song and celebration to all of mankind?

Do you have the ears to hear, the eyes to see? Can you see through the decorations and the too-well-known songs? Can you hear the Voice of Love?

Be greatly blessed this Christmas season.