Every Spiritual Gift

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Corinthians 1:4-7, NIV).

I have a lot to be thankful for this week!  God has answered many prayers in ways that are much more kind and generous than I deserve.  I especially am thankful for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and my prayer for this week is that God will grant us every spiritual gift we need to create glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven through the life of our church, while we wait for the full glory of Christ to be revealed to–and in–us!

The Return of the King

One of my favorite books is The Return of the King, book three of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The book tells the story of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, who was Elendil’s son.  Elendil was the mighty king of a great kingdom called Gondor, but fell in battle against the Dark Lord, Sauron, at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth.  With Isildur’s death, the line of Elendil began to falter, and eventually disappeared from all knowledge, leaving Gondor under the rule of the stewards for centuries.

At the time of the events chronicled in The Return of the King, Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, has arisen out of the shadows to challenge the Dark Lord and claim his rightful place as the king.  It’s a classic storyline masterfully told by the greatest fantasy author of all time (in my opinion).  And, it’s quite moving. The people have awaited the return of their king for centuries, and he finally comes–just in the knick of time to turn the tide of war and bring a final end to the Dark Lord.  With Aragorn’s victory, he reunites the fractured Kingdom of Gondor and establishes peace throughout the land that endures for many generations to come.

Like many good tales, the themes woven into The Return of the King find their roots in real historical events.  About 2,000 years ago, the Kingdom of Israel was a fractured mess, with Jews scattered throughout the known world.  Israel had at one time been ruled by a mighty king named David, who had passed the crown on to his son, Solomon.  After Solomon’s death, the line of David began to fail, and eventually fell into obscurity as Israel was conquered and dispersed.  For centuries, Israel languished.  But, the remnant of Jews still living in Israel under the iron fist of the Roman Empire remembered a prophecy given by the prophet Zechariah 500 years earlier.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

They knew that one day their king would return and set all things right.  They believed he would break the power of Rome, raise an army in Israel, and conquer the world, reclaiming his rightful place on the throne as the Son of David.  In some ways, they were right.  That’s why the events recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 21:1-11 are so important in the history of the human race.

On the Sunday before he was crucified, Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.  In so doing, he was making the bold and audacious claim that he, Jesus of Nazareth, was the lawful heir to the throne of Israel, the Son of David, and the fulfillment of Zechariah’s 500-year old prophecy!  Throughout his ministry, Jesus had already begun to set things right.  He taught people about the Kingdom of God, and how life in the Kingdom should be lived.  He demonstrated his own authority and power over sickness, over evil spirits, over Nature, and even over death, as he healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed the storms, walked on water, and brought the dead back to life.  Jesus was truly a man of great power… a king if ever there was one!

That’s why, when the Jews saw Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, they clogged the streets in a great crowd.  They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9)!  They spread their cloaks out on the road in front of Jesus, providing a “red carpet” of sorts for him to enter the city.  They cut palm branches from nearby trees, waving them in praise and laying them along the path of Jesus.  Finally, after centuries, their king had returned!  Indeed, Jesus was (and is) the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.  He rode into Jerusalem that day, 2,000 years ago, with righteousness and salvation.  But, not as the Jews expected.

Jesus didn’t raise an army and lead a military campaign against Rome.  Instead, he offered himself as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin–the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptizer said.  Instead of casting down his enemies, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and murdered in a gruesome public spectacle.  Now, if that was all we knew of the story, we might assume that Jesus wasn’t who he claimed to be when he rode in on the donkey’s colt.  We might think he was just another rebel leader executed by the Roman government.  But we’d be wrong.

Jesus was crucified and buried, but in a borrowed tomb.  On Easter Sunday, one week after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was resurrected.  He had dealt a death blow to Death, Hell, sin, and the grave! He had taken our sins upon himself, and paid for them with his own blood.  He stepped into the ring with Satan, and walked out victorious.  He defeated darkness and evil and made a public spectacle of them on the cross.  He had reunited us with the Father, making it possible for our broken relationship with God to be fully restored.  Jesus freed us from the power and the penalty of sin, giving us righteousness and salvation–just like Zechariah foretold!

And then, he left.  He ascended into Heaven, sending the Holy Spirit back to dwell with and in those of us who belong to his Kingdom, who acknowledge that Jesus is our King and our God.  And now we, like the Jews 2,000 years ago, await the return of our King.  When Jesus comes again, he won’t be a humble Jewish construction worker riding on a donkey.  According to Revelation 19:11-21, when Jesus returns he will be riding on a white war horse, with a crown on his head and eyes blazing like fire.  He will be wearing a robe dipped in blood and leading the armies of Heaven.  He will bring justice and the final defeat of our great enemy, once and for all freeing us from the presence of sin.  He will establish an eternal Kingdom, and all those who have believed in him and received him as their Lord and Savior will live with him forever (we will never die) in a place that goes beyond our wildest dreams.

This Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Jews celebrating the return of their king, we also look forward to Jesus’s awesome second coming, and await the return of our King!  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

The graphic attached to this post came from https://i.ytimg.com/vi/SoujG6h7UGI/maxresdefault.jpg.

What’s Heaven Like?

Do you believe in Heaven?  I had the opportunity on Dec 30 to preach – something I rarely do (thankfully)!  I got to end our Advent series: Ancient-Future Christmas: Celebrating the Whole Story of God,  by preaching about Heaven, from Revelation 21 & 22.  I thought I would post a synopsis of the sermon here, as well as the audio and the sermon manuscript for anyone interested.

audio file

Where is Heaven?

Heaven is the dwelling place of God, and in the end, that place is on Earth (Rev. 21:1-4).  Heaven isn’t Heaven because of where it is, but because of who is there: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And we will be there, too – not wearing bathrobes, with wings and harps, floating on clouds, but on Earth, as physical beings, living with God.  It will literally be Heaven-on-Earth.

Who will be in Heaven?

Obviously God will be there (that’s what makes it Heaven).  But so will everyone whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27).

Who won’t be in Heaven?

The cowardly, the unbelievers, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers (this could mean drug abusers), idolaters, liars, the unclean, evildoers, the filthy, the dogs (meaning people who aren’t part of the family of God), and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:11, 15).  Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive.  And, it can be summed up in a single sentence: If you don’t belong to Jesus, you won’t be in Heaven.

What will we do in Heaven?

Here’s what we won’t do: become angels, wear bathrobes, be permanently retired, float around on clouds, or be in a church service that lasts for eternity.  A biblical understanding of Heaven interprets the New Creation in light of the Old Creation; the Bible ends where it begins.  In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth, and told us to go cultivate the world.  Build cities, plant gardens, work according to your giftedness, make babies, write books, make music, paint, draw, act, eat, and do it all for the glory of God.

In Revelation, God creates a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), and I believe we will be doing the same kinds of things in the New Creation as God intended for us to do in the old.  God’s plan for Creation is restored.  We’ll still have jobs, build houses, plant gardens, make music and art, enjoy good food and friends – and we’ll do it with no sin to muck it up.  I believe there will be cities and even nations in Heaven, with Jesus ruling as King of Kings from the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10) and with us reigning over cities and nations as His under-kings (Rev. 22:5).

How can I get to Heaven?

Come to Jesus (Rev. 22:17).  He has the water of life and you can drink from it freely.  Be washed in the blood of the Lamb who was slain to redeem men and women from sin and darkness and to purchase their place in glory.  If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll be in the New Creation, or if you’re a citizen of the Holy City, then simply come to Jesus and ask Him for help.  He’ll do the rest.  If He’s your God, then you’re His child (Rev. 21:7).

Questions About the Last Things?

On the last worship service of the year, I’m preaching about the “last things,” the end times, or what my seminary profs call eschatology.  Eschatology is a big fancy 8-cylinder word for “the study of last things.”  I’ve been reading through the Book of Revelation and trying to get my head around all the really weird things John says in that apocalyptic work!  My sermon will *probably* come from Revelation 21-22.

I want it to be interesting and applicable to your life, so I need some help from you.  What questions do you have about the last things?  What questions do you have about Heaven and/or Hell?  What questions do you have about judgment or the Battle of Armageddon, or the 1,000-year reign of Christ?  In other words, what questions do you have about eschatology?

I could do a bunch of research and present a great sermon positing answers to all sorts of questions, but if they’re not the questions you are asking, then it’s not going to help you see more clearly or make an impact in your life.  So, please, post your questions below as comments to this blog post.  I can’t promise that all of them will get answered, but it will certainly help me preach a more interesting, relevant, and applicable sermon!

No More Sea?

So I was reading through Revelation, specifically the last couple chapters, and had this question for you.

Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

That last little phrase caught my attention.  Why does John point out that the sea is no more?  What does he mean by that?  Will there be no sea anywhere or just no sea in the Holy City, New Jerusalem, that comes down from heaven (read a little further in the chapter to find out about New Jerusalem)?

Most scholars point out that ancient societies often associated the sea with chaos and evil, thus the removal of the sea is a removal of a great symbol and source of evil.  Others point out that the sea is one of the three realms of creation referred to throughout Revelation (heaven, earth, and sea; read Rev. 5:13; 10:6; 12:12; 14:7).  They claim that the sea is simply not a major part of the new creation.  Some scholars believe that John is referring specifically to the ocean that separated him from his readers (John was banished on an island when he wrote Revelation).  Here oceans are representative of separation.  They separated John from his readers and they separate nations from other nations.  In the new creation, God will remove these boundaries by eliminating the seas. (Trinity Journal Volume 24. Winona Lake, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2003.)

What do you think?  Will there be oceans in the New Earth?  Why do you think John mentions no more sea?

Post your responses in the comments below.