The fourth beatitude, covered in Part V, also offers stimulating spiritual truths. First, and an encouragement for us now, don’t crash-dive into fear and anxiety over COVID-19. Irritating as it is interrupting our daily life. Debilitating as it can be in invading our health. Dangerous as it can be by causing death from its complications, don’t be terrified.
It’s perfectly harmless compared to entering God’s Presence without Christ’s forgiveness. No escape from God’s wrath is then possible. Banishment from God then is inevitable.
Second, instead of ignoring Christ’s Return as a distant event, with no results in daily life, think once a day that it could be THAT day. The effect will impact our thinking and behavior, our habits and our relationships. For...ask yourself: if I knew Jesus would come NOW—and once he comes, forgiveness isn’t available—would I want to SEE him just having sinned?
Third, rewards exist for those actively and faithfully serving Jesus in discipleship. We can speculate the manner in which spiritual service, rule and authority under Christ will be enjoyed. Think instead of the one reward constantly available to every person in Heaven: abbreviating Steve Green’s song: God our one desire, of whom our hearts will never tire. Seeing the immortal, invisible, Almighty God in all his Glory!
But how? Mortals cannot see what’s invisible, even in their immortal state. Almighty God remains invisible to them. Unless...God will make himself Visible in a Glorified Human Being. Which is exactly what he has done in Jesus Christ, as seen in Revelation 1:12-18.
Remember...Jesus came as GOD with us, Matthew 1:23. He came “in very nature God,” Philippians 2:6. He manifested himself in “the image of the invisible God,” Colossians 1:15, and in “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” Hebrews 1:3.Once you saw Jesus in ministry you looked at the face of God in the Flesh, John 5:22-23, 14:8-9 but two of many verses.
Given that truth, remember the effect his Resurrected Body had on unbelievers: Roman soldiers at his tomb “were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” Matthew 28:4.
Little wonder then that the apostle John, taken by surprise when he turned to see the VOICE speaking to him, SAW instead the Ineffable Person: about whom he wrote in hopelessly inadequate language what human language can never express, and only glorified forgiven mortals will ever see, the completely inexpressible Glory of Almighty God in Jesus Christ’s Glorified person in human form.
Look, you Redeemed: In Christ’s Mysterious, Glorious Person, BEHOLD your GOD! Amen. Hallelujah!
God planted the fourth beatitude in a series of judgments/wraths imposed on any earthly power defying God’s Sole Rule of history. Luke 12:37, I Thessalonians 5:2 and II Peter 3:10 all contain specifics relating to this beatitude.
In Luke 12 Jesus offered a series of warnings against being so obsessed with earthly concerns that we neglect the Spiritual Life and his Return from Heaven with history’s termination. While preaching to large crowds, he related it first to his disciples: who should know how to live, but often neglect it; who should possess spiritual values challenging the unsaved, but often don’t.
The Parable of the Rich Fool warns against accumulating possessions as a means of self-identification: I’m a success because I have such and such—the old satanic lie “the one with the most toys wins.”
That’s followed by the same warning Jesus issued in Matthew 6—against the anxiety and worry that pursuing earthly goals produces.
Which he followed by encouraging his followers to begin and continue WATCHING for his Second Coming. Paul emphasized it as “eagerly” awaiting his Return Philippians 3:20. Christ used a Wedding Feast, like the one in Matthew 25:1-13, to make his point.
Both Matthew and Luke stressed surprise at the bridegroom’s appearance. Matthew at midnight 25:6 and Luke 12:38 in the second or third watch—anywhere between 10 PM and Sunrise. (Romans divided night into four, the Jews into three, watches.)
The Master’s point was: since we don’t know the DAY or HOUR of his Coming, we should WATCH--not Predict—each DAY and its HOURS for him to come. When was the hour, day, month or year we last thought about Christ’s Return, let alone watched for it? End Part V
We have a conflicted psyche regarding aging: we want to live a long time while being exempt from growing older. Medical science, meanwhile, promises extended lifespans—though in such small increments we don’t yet equal the 70-80 years of Psalm 90:10.
In Part III God declared the death of his people a blessing, as in “blessed are the dead” Revelation 14:13. Consider the beatitude sequentially.
Blessed the dead who die in the Lord. Because they inherit the promise of Christ’s own resurrection. As Hebrews 2:14-15 declared, since humanity feared death, Jesus died to prove death a hollow shell, with no substance; a bully with no punch; a braggart with no arms.
Success by dying...a strange inversion. Drunkards don’t destroy taverns by drinking, gamblers casinos by gambling, or smokers the tobacco industry by smoking. But Jesus proved death an interloper in humanity by falling asleep in its arms on Friday afternoon and being secured behind the stone in his grave. Then, by the invincible power of his Deity he snapped the bars in Hades and roared alive!
Satan’s fearsome power over humanity imploded from within the tomb of Jesus Christ. The stone’s removal by the angel simply let the Roman guard be first to see Christ ALIVE! The open tomb didn’t raise Jesus, and the empty tomb didn’t prove he lived again. Had the angel opened any other tomb, the corpse inside would have remained there.
And...in another God-inspired irony, the resurrection of Jesus proved SO absolutely inevitable that the instant of his DEATH broke open tombs in Jerusalem’s hills, freeing the bodies of “many holy people who had died.... they came out of the tombs and, after Jesus’ resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” Matthew 27:52-53.
Remember however. It’s only those IN THE LORD who receive the benediction. Only they face death with the confidence that they shall rise from its depths to live in NEW BODIES!
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors.” Rest...task finished, work done, race run, victory achieved, goal reached, God’s encomium bestowed. An encouragement for us to let our departed loved ones enjoy their disembodied state fully conscious of the victory won through Christ. Let us not expect them to have an interest in our lives. That’s the purpose the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11 serves. Their vast concourse of victorious lives cheers us on in ours.
Their Deeds Will Follow Them. Our present dead in Christ challenge us to be faithful till our death as they in theirs. Their example can cheer us as we presently submit our lives to the Spirit of God, who “began a good work” in us and “will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6. God wills his truth to triumph through us. Christ shares his Resurrection victory with every faithful disciple. End Part IV
The nations presently find themselves trapped inside their fears—and all because they’re afraid of getting sick and/or dying from a disease. Though from the beginning of history God sentenced all humanity to trouble, anxiety and death for Adam’s sin Genesis 3:17-19.
The more important question hardly anyone has asked is: has the present crisis increased anyone’s FEAR of GOD? Has it made anyone more aware that, while we may or may not contract COVID-19...and we may or may not die from it...we’ll ALL appear before “the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for things done while in the body, whether good or bad” II Corinthians 5:10?
This generation may be in the introductory stages of trouble that will bring turmoil we’ve never faced. If so, all of it will be well-deserved. We have, as a culture, abandoned the fear of God; as a result we consign ourselves to being afraid of challenges that are mere difficulties blown by our unprotected lives into enfeebling tribulations.
With that insight, maybe the lesson we can learn from COVID-10 is: repent America of your intellectual hubris and your moral depravity. Return to God and his Christ who made this nation the envy of the world. Pray Ezra’s prayer in Ezra 9:5-15.
Understand that God CANNOT be mocked. Not SHOULD NOT be mocked. We cannot throw our shoulders back and lift our head in scorn of God, tossing him off as a nuisance or irrelevance. We suffer if we try. We may complain that we’ve done nothing deserving what we experience. But since God, not we, made the rules, he says we have and he won’t tolerate it.
All of which introduces the content of Part III: “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’”. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them” Revelation 14:13.
In the context preceding 14:13, God’s angel foretold the punishment of anyone worshipping—that is--devoted to the world system opposing Christ. He left no doubt of the eternal torment they received for daring to contest God’s universal sovereignty over history.
Interrupting that baleful denunciation, the third beatitude comes directly from heaven. If all kinds of bad come to God’s enemies, the future for those dead in Jesus is dramatically different. Blessed is their death. The very same word Jesus used in Matthew’s beatitudes means valued, desired, pleasurable, fortunate, beatified, happy—Psalm 116:15 all over again.
Against the doom awaiting God’s enemies, the delight ahead for God’s people. Against the anxiety characterizing the living who oppose God, the assurance of the redeemed entering God’s presence. Against depression in the living, but doomed, mortals, buoyancy for the saved dead. Amen. End Part III
The twin beatitudes of 1:3 remind us that God designates two essential roles for his Word in our lives. First, it’s to be our primary spiritual tutor. Second, it’s to be actualized in our thinking and behavior.
Psalm 91 offered energizing hope to Israelites faithful to Moses. Reflecting the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14, the Psalm promised exemption for the obedient from life-ravages experienced by unbelievers. Satan even used verses 9-12 in a vain effort to have Jesus throw himself from the temple’s pinnacle: NOTHING would harm him. Jesus exploded that lie by tying his personal safety to his obedience to God’s will. He therefore joined blessing to faithfulness; a benefit appropriate to Hebrews who remained obedient to Moses.
The danger to Bible exegesis—understanding the meaning of the Biblical context—exists when we automatically relate the passage to Christians; as if we don’t face the same disappointments, grief and losses characteristic of all mortals. Too many personal experiences defy that expectation. One robust promise does exist for believers denied the unsaved, illustrated by Joshua and Caleb. They accompanied faithless Israel when God sentenced the nation to a 40-year wilderness sojourn.
At the end of those years, however, Joshua had only begun his leadership role. Caleb, likewise, soon after the Conquest, rose to the challenge of capturing his own territory. Both of them at the time approximately 80 years of age!
Who said seniors can’t accept and discharge difficult challenges? Neither man considered his age a reason to fear the role he assumed! Indeed, at the time the men faithless to God decayed in desert graves, the grand old men of faith readied themselves to accept difficult SERVICE.
In essence, Joshua and Caleb endured those years in HOPE, knowing they would survive them; the rest endured in DREAD, knowing they wouldn’t.
That relates to the Beatitude in Revelation 14:13. End Part II
Remember: a Bible beatitude describes a blessing to someone God honors. Jesus offered nine in his Sermon on the Mount. The eight beatitudes in Revelation conferred God’s blessing on his people in the province of Asia towards the end of the first century. Facing the danger of persecution for believing in Jesus, they needed to know that God ruled as sovereign over all historical circumstances. Not even the power of the Roman Empire existed outside his will.
Remember: the twin beatitudes in Revelation 1:3 offered two challenges to God’s people. First, he challenged them—us—to read his word. In the context, the Revelation of John. In a larger sense, the Bible. Second, he challenged them—us—to embody his word.
Remember: The Bible’s message is always transformational, changing us from what we are to what God wants us to be. Relating that to the coronavirus—COVID-19—what is the message we now need to possess and share with people who are afraid and uncertain?
Well, what was God’s message in 1918 when, in some 18 months, 20 million people died world-wide? And perhaps 40-50 million died before the epidemic vanished?
What was God’s message in the 17th century when the Black Plague wiped out ¾ of Europe and Asia? People in both epidemics took the precaution we’re taking now: wearing masks, not congregating, taking nostrums by mouth to protect themselves. In 1918, even washing their hands.
Whatever the historical circumstance, God wants his people to read his word and put into practice what it teaches about how to react when life throws a tantrum. In essence, he now as then, wants us to embody the power he gives us to think and behave triumphantly in any danger, distress, crisis, epidemic or loss.
This time of unrest offers Christians the opportunity to be witnesses: of God’s peace instead of our anxieties; of God’s assurance instead of our fears; of God’s forgiveness instead of our guilt; of God’s faithfulness instead of life’s vagaries. God in Christ being the difference.
Remember: Bible texts from both testaments strengthen our faith and increase our courage, whatever we face. Read Psalm 23, Isaiah 7:2-4, 9, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Luke 21:9-11, 19, I Corinthians 2:13-16, Psalm 91:1-2, 5-7, John 14:1, John 16:33, Philippians 4:6-7. Just a few of many more Bible texts that arouse boldness and bravery in God’s people when trouble rises.
Remember: God overcomes life, whether it’s benign or bestial. He is always ABLE if we have faith enough to trust him!
Remember Christians: while unbelievers give way to fear, God empowers us to be stalwart in faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.
And Remember Christians: that is the message God wants us to share with others: “Why be afraid when we can instead be fearless by having faith in God and his Christ?” End Part I
Point of fact, then...whoever interferes with God’s work of redemption—forgiving the humanity made in his image—makes himself God’s enemy and the bulls-eye of his wrath. And if that person or nation resorts to arms to defend his or its opposition to God, God uses arms to remove him or it by whatever force is needed. Without making a single apology to those who demand a painless way to right the wrongs that WRONG had done.
Not Pharaoh’s entire mobile or infantry force kept Israel in Egypt when God broke their chains. “At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt” Exodus 12:40. Not the entire seven-nation coalition kept Israel out of Canaan. With new tenants across the Jordan impatient for occupancy, God cancelled his lease with the Canaanites and rented the land to Israel. Fini
From inside God’s Presence, we won’t wring our hands in despair over personal disappointment, unanswered prayer, homelessness and poverty, disease and pestilence, nature’s fury, early deaths and the complaints many Christians make about the costs of discipleship. And...a comforting thought in the present coronavirus scare...we won’t panic-buy! Or any other of the many situations Satan keeps raising and people use as excuses not to believe and obey God in Christ!
In addition, and encouraging to those who exhaust themselves with questions about a good GOD and war, within God’s Presence we accept Biblical teaching of spiritual conflict that often becomes armed conflict. So many of us are in conflict with God that conflict among ourselves is inevitable.
However, the Bible wastes no time with the “ethical” problem of war, though secular and religious scholars fixate on it. Why does it exist? they wonder and argue.
Well, being but a preacher, not a scholar, I venture an answer, not a question. While understanding...that God never bothers to explain the reason. While emphasizing...God does bother...repeatedly...in every generation...beginning with the first...to explain that his entire message to humanity focuses on reclaiming mankind from their sins. In other words, it’s all about Redemption. Forgiveness. Reconciliation with God. The very words some church growth preachers don’t like to use because they’re too “churchy”.
They must face the fact that bringing lost humanity back to him summarizes God’s entire message, Old and New Testament. Are we going to be so enamored of our culture that we content ourselves with representing them before God instead of confronting them with God’s changeless message of grace? We can only be his messengers if we continue proclaiming that message first and foremost! End Part II
The book of Revelation, seditious in its day by affirming Christ’s absolute authority over a Roman Empire even then brutalizing Christians, also warns our society not to hide unbelief in God behind stalking horses such as poverty, homelessness, disasters and, especially, war.
The songs of Revelation will be studied in a succeeding blog. Those of the Gospels and Epistles introduce spiritual themes the Revelation follows. Consider some of the factors: God’s concern for Israel and Christians in history; God’s conquest of all his enemies; God’s use of human leaders to effect his will; God’s offer of forgiveness of sin to all believers, including Gentiles, resulting in peace with God; Christ-centered promises in every reference, in every way: his Deity by nature stressed, his servanthood by choice established, his exaltation at God’s demand to singular honor.
However, first of all and most important of all, GOD’s PRIORITY is stressed in every song. As the Only God, he is FIRST. Which has a lesson for us. It’s only from God’s eternal perspective that mortals can make sense of life, understand life and overcome life. Always, then, interpret historical events and personal experiences from INSIDE God’s Presence and Will. And never from within ourselves, even as Christians. From inside God’s Presence, life-circumstances, perplexities, inconsistencies and temptations will pose no threat to our peace with God and our Christian discipleship. End Part I
Fanny Burney, born into a family of scholars, explorers, historians and musicians, wrote novels in 18th-19th century England. A national celebrity, she lived, visited and entertained with the upper classes.
A friend outlined some of the responsibilities attendant on her when she served as Assistant Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte—consort of George III. Such as: the ability to carry conversation beyond monosyllabic to detailed discussions; never coughing in her Majesty’s presence, even to the extent of choking instead of coughing; never sneezing in her Majesty’s presence, even if repulsing it meant you ground your teeth, even if stifling it caused you to burst a blood-vessel; never stir hand or foot in her Majesty’s presence, even if in pain, even if stifling it you bit your lips or cheek so hard you bit off a piece of flesh. And, of course, never spit in her Majesty’s presence, etc., etc., etc.
So much for waiting on her Majesty. I wonder what she did when she had to sneeze or cough or scratch an itch! But nothing unusual in any government before or sense, especially among royals. Great Diaries, 377
Jesus faced such idiotic traditions in Israel. Rules that governed conduct, set limits on accepted activity, how far people could travel on the Sabbath, how they must ceremonially purify themselves and their utensils after being in public—and what constituted acceptable Sabbath day activities.
With no reluctance Jesus deliberately broke every tradition that interfered with his ministry of grace, though he kept every command of Moses that related to duty! May we study to learn, until we know, the difference between form that exists to limit freedom and substance that frees us to live by God’s Spirit in grace.