God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

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Don’t Give Up on Them

Matthew 20

for the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives a very interesting parable about a landowner who hired some people to work on his land. He hired one man early in the morning, one at 9:00 am, one at 12:00 pm, one at 3:00 pm, and another at 5:00 pm. At the end of the day, all of them received a day’s wage, which they had all agreed to. Understandably, the one who was hired first was upset that he received the same pay as the person who started at 5:00 pm. The landowner simply told him that he agreed to work for that day’s wage and wasn’t being unfair.

 

This parable is talking about people’s salvation. There are some people who have been saved for many, many years; they have dedicated their life to Jesus, served in the Church for years, and made many disciples through their lifetime. Then there are people who come to faith at the very end of their lives, sometimes repenting on their deathbeds. However, in the eyes of God, both those people have the same reward waiting for them: life in the Kingdom of God.

 

There are at least two things we should learn from this parable. The first is that it does not matter when someone comes to salvation; we should rejoice that they came to faith at all! We shouldn’t view them differently than we view someone who has served for years in the church. Everyone who accepts Jesus has received the same salvation, according to Romans 10:9-10. We need to be happy for that individual, not jealous or bitter towards them.

 

The second lesson we learn here is that we should never give up on people. As long as there is still breath in their lungs, we have a shot at blessing them with the gospel. Just because a friend or family member that you know has rejected the gospel right now, doesn’t mean that they will never accept it. There is always an opportunity for their salvation in God’s eyes. Our job is simply to try and plant a seed in their life, and allow God to cause the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). So do not give up on that person you have been working with, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem; you do not know what God could be doing in their hearts.

 

-Talon Paul

A Coming Reward

Matthew 19

matthew 19 27

Many of us have had to endure hardships because we chose to follow Jesus. Some of us have had to lose friends and family relationships, and endured verbal attacks. There are people all over the world who are being put in prison and literally risking their life to follow Jesus. So the big question for most people is, “Why?” Why do we choose to risk it all to follow this person who we believe rose from the dead? What do we get out of it?

 

This was the question that Peter asked Jesus also in Matthew 19:27. He asked, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” It makes sense that we are concerned about what our reward will be. We ask the same question before taking a new job; “What do I get out of this?”

 

Jesus’ answer for Peter should excite us all. Jesus promised them “100 times more” than what they gave up in the coming Kingdom of God. Whatever they had given up, they would receive even more! They would also get immortal life as well! What terrific promises that we have been given by the son of God!

 

Today’s devotion is simply supposed to encourage you. No matter what you have had to endure or give up to follow Jesus, the reward in the end is so much greater. You will have immortal, perfect life (John 3:16), you will have no more sickness or sorrow (Revelation 21:3-4), and you will get to see your loved ones again who have died (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). What more could we possibly ask for? Jesus has promised us everything we can dream of if we choose to suffer now, just like he did. So be encouraged today that you have a tremendous, indescribable reward waiting for you when our king returns!

 

-Talon Paul

Jesus is Greater than . . .

Matthew 17

matthew 17 5

In Matthew 17:1-9, Jesus takes his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up to a mountain privately. During this time, God was about to do something that they would never forget. As they stood talking to each other and to Jesus, all of a sudden Jesus’ appearance changed and started shining like the sun! If that wasn’t enough, the disciples saw Moses and Elijah standing there talking with Jesus! What in the world is going on, they must have been saying.

 

This vision that the disciples saw has many truths within it that are significant for us to know. The first is that they got to see a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is going to be like. In Daniel 12:2-3, we learn that after the resurrection, the righteous are going to “shine” like the sun and the stars. That is exactly why Jesus appeared to be shining before them; they were seeing a little bit further into the future to what it will be like after the resurrection.

 

Moses and Elijah are significant because they represent the whole Old Covenant; Moses represented the Torah (or Law) and Elijah represented the prophets. Although these were incredible figures in Judaism, when God spoke during this vision, he didn’t address them; he only spoke in favor of Jesus by saying “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” (Matt. 17:5 NLT) This vision was making a point: Jesus is greater than both Moses and Elijah, and therefore, greater than the entire Old Covenant!

 

Why should this matter to you? Well, if Jesus is greater than even Moses and Elijah, he is greater than whatever you are facing in your life. Any struggle that you may suffer from, whether it’s at school, work, home, or even within yourself, Jesus is greater. The best part is that he is willing to step into your life and help you, if you are willing to call on him. So, no matter what difficulties you are facing, Jesus is there and is greater; I encourage you today to call for his help. He loves you and wants the best for you; allow him to change your life.

 

-Talon Paul

Food & Stuff

matt 6 33 (1)

MATTHEW 6

Scrolling through the text messages I send to my wife, I realize there is a constant theme connecting about half of our communication:  food. “What are we having tonight?”, “Where do you want to go to eat?”, “Do we have any dinner plans?”, “What are you making?”, “I think I will have…”  I can only imagine if the Lord tarries for a few hundred more years, and they discover my phone in an archaeological dig, they will no doubt conclude that I was one of the hungriest people on earth.  The thing is I’m not. In fact, thank the Lord, I’ve never had to worry about a meal in my life, and truth be told, it probably would benefit me if I skipped a few meals. So why am I (and so many others) obsessed with food, or clothing, or money, or all of these things, the very things God assures over and over again he will provide what we need in exact proportions?

 

Today’s reading, Matthew 6, is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus takes the time to teach us how to pray, and then gives us the appropriate perspective on our food and stuff, to make sure our priorities are straight so our pursuits are fruitful.  How do we know what our priorities should be? Some say that the model prayer that Jesus gives is also a priority list (Matt 6:9-13). If this is true, then it is later confirmed when Jesus says “Seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33).  Kingdom first. Everything else, don’t sweat.

 

This reminds me of a recent discussion we have been having about theme in my classroom.  In fiction, the theme is the single most important factor that guides your story. Everything else is of significantly lesser importance.  The setting could be the United States, another country, space, or complete fantasy. Your characters could be people, animals, aliens, or inanimate objects. The conflict can be internal or external.  The main idea in these thoughts: you can tell the same story with a variance of characters, settings, conflicts, but the theme, or the central message, remains the same because it controls everything else.

 

When the theme of our lives becomes food and stuff, we become literal or figurative “packrats.”  Our pantries begin to overflow, we save for every eventuality and rainy day, and we have closets full of clothing for every season and occasion. To what purpose?  While it might be unwise to go to the grocery store to buy a single day’s worth of food, to not acknowledge retirement, or our only shoes to be flip-flops in Minnesota, is this really the side where most of us err?

 

The theme controlling our story should singly be the Kingdom of God.  It should be the driving force, controlling our story. It doesn’t matter who we are.  It doesn’t matter where we live. It doesn’t matter the challenge we face. We know the theme. It is the very reason Paul says he “can do all things through Christ who gives him strength” because rich or poor, here or there, famous or obscure, those are just the “all these things” of the story (Phi 4:13).  It is true that each day has enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34). The sun will rise. The birds will fly. The flowers will grow. You will get your food and stuff WHEN you acknowledge first, the Kingdom of God. Knowing this, use the details of your story – picking out your clothes, sitting down to eat, or making a purchase, to find a way to acknowledge, thank, and share God for or with your food and stuff.

-Aaron Winner

Looking For and Following the Star!

Romans 8 24 a

This week, as we look forward to Christmas and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus, we will look at his birth and what that means going forward for us. Just as the wise men looked for and followed the star to find Jesus, we also have a “Star”, Jesus, to look for and to follow.

 

As Christmas draws near I, like so many others, am filled with anticipation. Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. I remember growing up as a kid and being filled with so much excitement and anticipation counting down the days and looking forward to Christmas Day! When I think back to the anticipation I felt, it reminds me of the anticipation that the wise men must have felt. No one really knows for sure where the wise men came from, but it is believed that they could have come from the Babylon area, a journey of 800 miles.  If that’s true, they must have really been waiting for and anticipating the sign of the star that would show them the way to the “King of the Jews” –Matthew 2:2. They must have been watching and waiting for the day when that star would appear so they could honor and worship the King.  Once they saw that star, they followed and never looked backed, but followed that star until they found him.

 

If I were to relate this story of the wise men to myself and the time we live in now, following the first advent of Jesus, I am reminded of the anticipation I have for the second advent of Jesus when he will come back and when God himself comes back and “makes all things new”- Revelation 21:5.

 

Romans 8:23-25 beautifully states how we should be anticipating the return and coming of our King!

 

“23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

 

The prayer that I have for myself and for everyone who reads this is that we anticipate and long for the coming of the King as much as the wise men did.  May we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly”, may we turn our eyes to the risen “Star”, Jesus, and follow him and never look back, until God sends him back to this earth at his second advent.

 

-Luke Elwell

 

 

“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”

joy to the world

 

Isaac Watts published the words for “Joy to the World” in 1719.  A century after Watts wrote the words, Dr. Lowell Mason, heavily influenced by Handel’s “Messiah”, set the words to music. Watts wrote the famous carol after meditating on Psalm 98.  Psalm 98:4 reads, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.”  This is precisely what Watts was trying to do by writing the hymn.

 
Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King
;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He’ll rule the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love
And wonders, and wonders of His love.

 

The first verse of the carol talks of Jesus coming to earth.  It does not talk about Jesus’ coming as a special baby, but more importantly his coming as King. There is no mention in the entire carol of Bethlehem, a manger, shepherds, or a special star.   In fact, much of the carol has more to do with Jesus’ future, second coming, than with his birth as a baby.

 

The third verse of the carol mentions “thorns infesting the ground” and “the curse”, both references to God telling Adam that the ground would be cursed as a consequence of his sin (Genesis 3:17-18). Because Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, mankind would have to work to produce food, and instead of abundant crops growing effortlessly, now weeds and thorns would be plentiful.  However, the carol is looking forward to a day when there will be no more sin, sorrow or thorns.  We know all too well, that that day has not yet come, but we look forward with confidence to the day Jesus will return to earth again and all the consequences of sin will be defeated.

Although much of “Joy to the World” tells the story of Jesus second coming, it is still a wonderful song for us to sing at Christmastime.  As we celebrate Christmas, it is important for us to remember that Jesus did not stay a baby in a manger.  His story does not end with his death on the cross, or even his resurrection. We sing of “Joy to the World” because we know that one day Jesus is coming back to set up his Father’s perfect, never-ending, kingdom here on earth!

-Jill McClain