History’s Greatest Friendship?

1 Samuel 20.23.

may the Lord make us keep our promises to each other, for he has witnessed them. – 1 Samuel 20:23

One of the great friendships in history was between David and Jonathan. Let me set the scene …

Saul is the first king of Israel, but he’s waning in influence. His influence with the people is waning because of a charismatic young man named David defeated Goliath. His influence with God is waning because Saul has become increasingly rebellious.

David though has become friends with Saul’s son. It is a loyal, committed friendship. And Jonathan is, perhaps, one of the most devoted friends ever. Jonathan – the son of Saul – is first in line for the throne. He is the future king. And yet he’s watching as his friend, David, grows in favor with God and the people. His best friend is about to usurp the throne, and yet Jonathan is more loyal to his friend than his own political future (and all the riches that go with it).

In this scene – 1 Samuel 20 – David is convinced that Saul is plotting to kill David. Jonathan can’t believe that of his father. Nevertheless, David convinces Jonathan to go to his father and see if his father will reveal his murderous – or benign – intent. David knows that if Saul’s intent is murder, then Jonathan may be followed back to his rendezvous with David. So they devise a signal. Jonathan essentially said, “David, hide by this rock. When I return from meeting with my father, I’ll shoot some arrows, as if I’m shooting targets. After I shoot the arrows, I’ll send a servant to fetch them. If I tell the servant that they’re on the near side of the rock, then you can come near for my father’s heart is pure. If I tell the servant that they’re on the far side of the rock, run far away because my father’s heart is hard.

You may know that Saul’s heart was vengeful and that David wound up running far. But that’s not the point of the devotion …

The point is true friendship. Covenantal friendship. Bonds understood to be unbreakable. But I like their specific words in affirming this friendship: “May the Lord make us keep our promises to each other, for he has witnessed them.”

Here’s what I hear: “I, Jonathan, am not sure if I can keep my promise to you, David. The pressure to obey my father and come against you will be great. And the human temptation to cement my own political and financial future may be greater. So … may the Lord help me keep this promise.” Likewise, I hear David saying, “Jonathan, if your father comes at me in anger, I promise to act nobly toward you and your household. And I know this will be difficult because I will become an outcast. I may have to spend the rest of my life running from the king’s armies. And I too know that I will need the Lord to help me keep this promise.”

Jonathan shot the arrows far. And it was time for David to run far. Nevertheless, David waited for the servant to leave, and then he stepped forward. “42 At last,” we are told, “Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the Lord’s name. The Lord is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.’” That’s friendship. That’s honor. And that’s wisdom – the wisdom that knows we’ll need God’s power to help us keep our promises.

In Christ’s Love,

1 Samuel 20.23.

 

Apocalyptically Imminent

Daniel 7.1.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14

There are two apocalyptic books in Scripture. We’re studying one as a church right now; we’re in the midst of a sermon series on Revelation. The other apocalyptic book is Daniel.

What does “apocalyptic” mean? The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it as, “writings from God that employ symbolic language to tell of a divine intervention soon to take place.”

Revelation has a lot of symbolic language. It speaks of God’s final and divine intervention. And my Bible uses imminent – can happen anytime – as a synonym for “soon,” “soon to take place.”

And Daniel has that same emphasis. Roughly five hundred years before Jesus the Messiah was even born, Daniel prophesied …

  • that one day the “son of man [would be] coming with clouds of heaven” (Jesus told us this too in Matthew 24);
  • that the “son of man [would be the one who could] approach[] the Ancient of days”;
  • that the “son of man [would be] given [eternal] authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world”;
  • that “people of every race and nation and language would [worship, honor, and] obey him;
  • that “His rule is eternal”;
  • that “His kingdom [would] never be destroyed.”

There are many prophecies of Jesus that came true with his first coming. Re-read those passages. These can only come true with his second coming!

And this is Good News! This world doesn’t have the final say. The Messiah does. And when we look forward to a time when there will be no more mourning or crying or pain and death will be no more (see Rev 21:4), we should be thankful that the Kingdom of the Son of Man will never be destroyed.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is looking up

 

 

 

Eat What?!

Ezekiel 3.1.

The voice said to me, [Ezekiel,] “Son of man, eat what I am giving you—eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. – Ezekiel 3:1-3

What is a scroll?

In a literal sense, a scroll contains writings on a rolled piece of papyrus, leather, or parchment. In a deeper sense, a biblical sense, “a scroll” is the Word of God.

In a literal sense, God may have told Ezekiel to eat a scroll. (I occasionally ate shards of paper when I was in elementary school.) In a deeper sense, Ezekiel was to swallow, to take in, to digest the Word of God.

I know many people who regularly “take in” the Word of God. Many report seasons, especially when they were new in their faith, when “chewing on” a passage of scripture and trying to understand it, was as refreshing as chewing on a tough piece of leather. But I’ve also had people tell me that as the Word began to take root in their heart and as understand grew, God’s Word began to taste as sweet as honey.

God was calling Ezekiel to ministry – indeed, to the role of a prophet, which was a rather thankless task (at least in human terms). Ezekiel couldn’t have persisted in this ministry without a conviction that God’s Word was true … and that even when God was warning his people, that God had sweet purposes for his people. God loved his people. Sometimes it was, indeed, with tough love. But all that God was speaking to his people was ultimately sweet.

Have you “fill[ed] your stomach with this”?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who has

a sweet tooth

Israel is a Hunted Sheep

Jeremiah 50.17.

Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured it, and now at the end King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has gnawed its bones. – Jeremiah 50:17

In today’s Daily Lectionary, I couldn’t resist today’s verse … especially after yesterday’s discussion.

Yesterday, I told of God’s people splitting into two rebellious kingdoms after the reign of Solomon. The South, called Judah, headquartered around Jerusalem. The North, called Israel, headquartered around Samaria.

My math says that this is two groups of people. But that’s human math. God eternally, on the other hand, sees Israel as one. Always. Eternally. One. In this case, God’s image for this is one single sheep. At this point in history, they’ve been one sheep in the midst of lions. A lion named Assyria (722 BC) “devoured” half the carcass. A lioness named Babylon (588 BC) “gnawed” on the other half of the bones.

Why, by human math, did we and do we consider Israel and Judah to be two, rather than one? Because of sin! We wrenched (and still wrench) ourselves out of God’s hand. We separated (and still separate) ourselves. We divide. But our sin and our versions of really don’t define God’s reality. God fashioned one people in the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God’s covenant and promises are never void.

Some have a poison ideology called replacement theology. This train of thought says that when Israel rejected Jesus, the church “replaced” Israel as the new recipients of all of God’s promises. That’s not Biblical! The church – largely made up of Gentiles – is surely grafted into God’s family, but Israel remains loved and chosen by God.

Romans, chapters 9-11, makes this clear. The Apostle Paul says …

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! … God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. … [But] this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly … 10:5 Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, … 9 “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God.” 11:11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. …  11:25 Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. 26 And so all Israel will be saved. … 28 Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. 30 Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. 31 Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy … 33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is glad that

what God calls “his own”

can never be snatched

from him

Noisy Offering

Psalm 100.1.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. – Psalm 100:1

Years ago, a church member said to me, “Pastor, do you know why I sit in the front row?”

“No.”

“It’s because I love to sing! But nobody else loves to hear me sing! So … I sit in the front row so I can sing as loud as I want and I don’t disturb the peace for the rest of the congregation.”

She made a joyful, joyful, joyful noise. She made it with her front row singing. And if you knew this person, you knew she made a joyful noise with her wisdom, integrity, and service.

I’ve known some churches that have what they call, “Noisy Offerings.” A few times a year they invite members to bring jars to church filled with their accumulated coins. When it’s time during worship for the offering, they all shake their jars. It is literally a “noisy offering.”

Well, that’s what we’re all invited to do throughout each aspect of our lives. We’re to make “noisy offerings” through the ways we sing and serve, follow and obey, raise our children and witness to our neighbors. Through the entire way that we live our lives, we called to “make a joyful noise to the Lord.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants to

be noisy (and joyful)

 

Eat What?

Ezekiel 37.15.

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, take a stick and write on it, “For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it”; then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it”; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand. – Ezekiel 37:15-17

Last week I told you that the book of Ezekiel has two primary parts. The first half is “the message of doom” (though I actually prefer “the message of warning”). Most of the second half, then, is “the message of hope.”

Last week’s devotion was a warning. Today’s message is a message of hope.

It’s a message to people who have been scattered because of their persistent rebellion against God. They’ve been overrun by the Babylonians and scattered throughout Nebuchadnezzer’s vast kingdom. Maybe by now a next kingdom – Cyrus and Persian – have defeated the Babylonians, but the fate is still the same for “Judah and the Israelites associated with it.” They are scattered. They are far from home. They are powerless. And it’s been now two or three generations of Exile.

But now, finally, comes a message of hope. Earlier in Ezekiel 37, they’d heard the prophecy of dry bones. It started as an image of war and carnage. Time and vultures and Babylon and Assyria had stripped and scattered the carcasses of Israel. But a new breath – the life and Spirit of God – was reconnecting the scattered remains of the country and bringing their dry bones and dry spirits back to life. Israel would live again!

Then God has Ezekiel talk about placing two scattered, separated, and disassociated sticks into one hand. After the reign of Solomon, Israel divided into two kingdoms – and not for holy reasons! The North – Israel – headquartered around Samaria and had a series of (only) evil kings. In spite of prophetic warnings, they would not repent and were virtually wiped from existence by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The South – Judah – headquartered around Jerusalem had a mix of evil, righteous, and mostly mediocre kings. In spite of their own batch of prophetic warning, Babylon in 588 BC conquered and scattered Judah.

One stick in Ezekiel’s hand represents Judah, the southern kingdom. The second stick, labeled Joseph and Ephraim, represented Israel, the northern kingdom. God, through Ezekiel, is foretelling more than a return of Judah after Exile. He’s foretelling a reunification of all of God’s people.

That happened, first, in 444 BC when Nehemiah was allowed by Cyrus the Persian King to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. Many say, however, that this was a far future prophecy too. God’s people, Israel, were returned again to their land in 1948 AD. All of Israel is reunited again.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who walks softly

and worships the God

who carries two big sticks

throughout the generations

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Revelation 6.4..jpg

Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer. – Revelation 6:1-2

The Four Horseman … If you’re a football fan, the Four Horsemen represent a legendary, Notre Dame backfield. Knute Rockne’s famed ‘horses’ lost only two games in three seasons, winning the national championship in 1925.

But, I’m sure you know that the name points back to Revelation 6, right? The Tribulation opens with the vision of a scroll, which is the title deed to the earth. But no one was worthy to break the seven seals to open the scroll … except for Jesus, the Lamb.

As our Savior broke each of the first four seals, a horse and rider would appear in each new vision. These first four seals made for “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” So what did these four signs represent?

  1. “6:2 There was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.” Who or what does this represent? The Antichrist. At the end of Revelation, another WHITE HORSE emerges (19:11ff). Don’t confuse them. The one at the end is Christ, himself. “19:12 On his head were many crowns.” He is, “19:16 King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Antichrist comes, imitating Jesus, but the crown is counterfeit – the “crown [must be] given to him” (and given by Satan). His “conquering,” violence, and deceit will define the next (and final) seven years of human history.
  2. Second, “6:3-4 when he opened the second seal, … out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.” Traditionally, the war inaugurating the Tribulation period is thought to be “the War of Gog and Magog,” described in Ezekiel 38-39. Russia, Iran, and Turkey will launch an attack on Israel from Syria. It will be a resounding (if not supernatural) defeat of these nations. But the violence and carnage will create a power vacuum in world politics, into which the Antichrist was step. This supposed “man of peace” (see Daniel 9) will then make a seven year peace treaty will Israel. That’s the aftermath, but it begins with a blood-colored horse and war.
  3. Next, “6:5-6 when he opened the third seal, … there was a black horse!” The blackness of famine was coming next.
  4. And finally … death. That was the pale horse. “6:8 I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him.” Death would envelop “6:9 a fourth of the earth [through] sword, famine, … pestilence, and … wild animals.”

Notice: Since the Antichrist has arrived on the scene, what will happen? Only disaster! It makes me realize how spoiled, hyperbolic, and hyperventilating we are, especially in America! In our American political moment, each party talks apocalyptically about every policy of the opposing party. And what happens? The economy goes up or down a point of two. A few laws get changed. The trajectory of the nation bends a little. But here are the pundits (on both sides) continually screeching apocalyptic warnings. But when the Antichrist comes, there will be catastrophic war, catastrophic famine, and catastrophic death (a quarter of the world’s population).

Two observations: First, let’s save the apocalyptic language for the real apocalypse! Second, what is it about the Antichrist that he only gains power and respect through the gradual destruction of the world? In America, we cry, “incompetence” and “impeachment,” over relatively minor changes in policy, but the Antichrist keeps growing in influence. How?! There’s a beautiful side of evil. The Antichrist’s charisma is off the charts. He uses every crisis as a catapult for his own personal advancement. The world will see themselves as fortunate to have such a wise, kind, capable leader in such a catastrophic time.

The Four Horsemen are not football players. The Four Horsemen are the beginning of the end.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who sees God’s

prophecy and warnings

as acts of love and mercy

– he wants us to know

and steer clear