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We were in Greece this past summer, on the island of Crete. We drove many kilometers through rugged, mountainous terrain, with hairpin curves, steep precipices, and lots of downshifting. Some in the car wondered if we’d make it. Finally arriving at the end of the road, we looked down, far below, on some of the most stunning scenes in the world.

The expansive Mediterranean Sea, the water’s vibrant shades of color—from turquoise to deep blue, the sprawling sandy beaches—it took our breath away. The paths down to the sandy shores were rocky and treacherous. The climb back up literally took our breath away. But seeing firsthand a unique piece of God’s creative handiwork made the effort to get there all the more worthwhile.

Reading through the book of Revelation reminds me of being in Crete. Making our way through the multiple displays of God’s wrath (chapters 6-18) is frightening. It’s a holy war on evil, and one wonders if people are going to make it through. But finally arriving at chapter 19, we come upon the most stunning scene imaginable.

In the background, we see the prostitute, the queen of evil adorned in her gaudy garments (Rev 17:4), lying in defeat, with smoke rising from her burning body. But in the foreground we see the dramatic opposite: the beautiful bride of Christ adorned in the fine linen garments of righteousness, feasting at her wedding celebration. The Groom is soon to arrive!

A college student coming to the end of the book of Revelation wrote, “I was stunned. The whole Bible was being wrapped up so beautifully, showing how all things that had been mentioned throughout it were going to be redeemed. It gave me chills to think that in the events of Revelation, all of history would come to a spectacular climax!”

The book of Revelation depicts the ugly and the beautiful in bold relief. The choices are clear-cut. We’re either on the side of goodness or evil; our robes are pure, or our garments filthy; we’re “overcomers”—passing the test of faithfulness and perseverance, for whom the scenery will be more beautiful than we can imagine, or we’re failures—for whom the scenery will be the darkest and most dismal ever.

I know which scenery I want to be a part of; how about you? (See Revelation 22:14-15)

– dbs

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A few years back we had a sermon series called, “The Story.” People told the gospel story through song, dance, art, and in the case of Jews, through food. Communion is based on a Jewish Passover Seder. More details can be found in this short video. The Passover Feast has several different spots where you have bread and wine, and the specific significance comes from the phrase, “after supper.” (1 Cor 11:25) This symbolism had been in place for as much as a thousand years BEFORE Jesus comes on the scene. Here’s how we know what the symbolism meant to the disciples:

The basic feast celebrates the delivery from physical slavery in Egypt. The order of service is called a Seder (means “order”), so while customs varied slightly over the centuries, the timeline within the service does not. The meal always proceeds in the same order. The book with the liturgy is called the Hagaddah (means “to tell”). The Seder service has a before supper, during supper, and after supper parts. There are four cups of wine: two before supper and two after supper. They are the Cup of Sanctification, Cup of Plagues, Cup of Redemption, and Cup of Praise. Because Jesus picked up the cup after supper, we know it was the Cup of Redemption (the last Cup He skipped, long story.) The bread is unleavened, called matzoh. Ignoring the before supper bread parts, the after supper matzoh is three pieces referred to as a Unity. The middle piece is striped, pierced, broken, wrapped in a linen napkin, and “buried” during supper. After supper, the children look for the middle piece which is called the Afikomen, Greek meaning “He who comes.” It is raised up from its burial spot and redeemed/reunited with the other two to reform the Unity. It was THAT piece of bread that Jesus said was His Body. We know this because it was after supper, and that is the only matzoh had after supper.

The Jews (and I daresay the Church) have been using these elements for thousands of years without knowing the full imagery behind the symbols. God speaks through His Word and also through His Feasts. Let us hear the eternal story of redemption.

– SF

As I tried to imagine the primitive church described in Acts 2, I wanted to relate to its excitement over its newly discovered truth. I thought back to my freshman year at Grace College. Because I had attended a tiny Christian school for twelve years (where underpaid teachers didn’t have any post-high school education), when I started classes at Grace everything was new to me. I was taught knowledge about God’s amazing world that I had never been introduced to before. Incredulously, in Intro to Bible class I had never thought about how we got an English translation of God’s Word, because in my sheltered background I had assumed the KJV was the only Bible that ever existed. So, I spent my freshman year diligently studying for long hours each day because I was excited to expand my narrow horizons.

Peter’s first sermon didn’t have as much deep theology as did his later epistles, but it had enough to change the hearts and wills of thousands who came to real faith. They were so eager for more light to be given to their only partially-opened spiritual eyes. What has become so familiar to us was all so fresh, strange, and transcendent to those in Peter’s audience. Undoubtedly many of these people had family and friends who were emphatically opposed to this message of the gospel. No wonder the new believers quickly developed fellowship, support, and unity of the faith.

When it was mealtime, I don’t think it was an ordinary supper because it was also a breaking of bread done in “remembrance of Me.” Most Bible commentators who’ve studied the Greek meaning of the mention of bread here agree that observing the Lord’s Supper “began as a heightening of the evening meal observed day by day. Then, before the epoch of the Acts of the Apostles ended it became a weekly celebration. . . in which they made holy the common practice of breaking bread. . . . When a household sat at table it was both a family and a church.” (Taken from Maclaren’s Expositions).

Do we bring the sacred and secular close together like that? Isn’t all of life worship and all of worship hope? It can be when we keep the significance of worship and the practice of breaking bread from becoming stale.

– ES

As we read in today’s passage, I think that Jesus has in mind the past, the present, and the future all at once when he reclines at the table with his disciples to eat the Passover meal.

We read Jesus, “when the hour came,” say, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” This places the account around the time of the celebration of the Passover, which was an annual holiday for the Jewish people to remember what God had done in delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites covered the doorposts of their home with the blood of a lamb, and the angel of death then passed over those homes and spared the firstborn. So these events would have already been on the minds of those in Jerusalem.

At this meal, however, Jesus explains that he is about to accomplish the fulfillment of the Passover and its regulations, as he takes bread and breaks it, saying, “This is my body given for you” and takes the cup, saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Jesus is making an incredible and life-changing point: soon, he would be crucified, giving up his very body and pouring out his blood for his people. He was about to give up his body and his blood in dying for his people, becoming the ultimate and once-for-all sacrificial Lamb. Those who are covered by the blood of Christ will not die, but their sins will be “passed over” in the sense that there is now no death or condemnation but rather life! As Paul says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). In doing so, Jesus would inaugurate the new covenant, which was promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In light of the Passover that is recorded in Exodus, Jesus is the ultimate and greater fulfillment of God’s redemptive act of saving His people and drawing them to Himself, establishing a new covenant for His people in which “[He] will put [His] law in their minds and write it on their hearts. [He] will be their God, and they will be [His] people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

So there is a past event in view regarding the Passover, but the main point is what Jesus was about to do in dying for his people. There is also a future element here too, though, as we read Jesus say, “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Jesus has in mind here a future feast with his people. There is coming a day when all believers will sit and feast with Jesus! In Revelation, John tells us what it will be like: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’”

So in this passage, we see an element of the past, the present, and the future in Jesus’s words. He recognizes the significance of the past Passover and its sacrificial aspects; he understands that he is about to accomplish the greater fulfillment of the Passover by delivering his body up to be crucified and spilling his blood as he redeems his people and inaugurates a new covenant in his blood; and he looks forward in anticipation for the consummation of this covenantal Kingdom when he will feast with his people. Like Jesus, when we celebrate communion we do so with the past, the present, and the future in mind.

We look back at the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his body and shed his blood so that we might have life, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with God. Jesus, our Savior, was crucified in our place, dying to redeem his people. When we take the bread and the cup, we do so remembering the atoning sacrifice of Jesus in our place. Paul says that, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

We look at the present implications of these truths, aligning ourselves with God and His purposes. We understand that Jesus is our risen Savior who has defeated death and is now ruling as God and King, and we submit to him. We recognize that the truths of the New Covenant – that God writes His law on hearts and minds, that God will be our God and we His people, that God will forgive our wickedness and sins, and that we will know God! – apply to us now. And we recognize that as we live for Christ, we proclaim to all the world the truths of his sacrificial death and resurrection.

And we look forward to the future consummation of the Kingdom, when we will feast with our Savior and Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb! We know our future: we know that we will live with God forever and ever, He as our God and we as His people! No matter how tough life gets, we remember His promises and look forward in anticipation for that day!

So as we celebrate communion and take the bread and the cup, let us remember the amazing sacrifice of Jesus, let us contemplate how that is impacting our lives today, and let us look forward to the awesome feast we will one day have with our great and glorious Savior!

When we read a story like the one recorded in John 13:1-20, it can be easy to focus on what we should do – such as wash someone else’s feet, or applying it more generally, serving someone else. While that is absolutely right and correct, we should not miss the main character of the story: Jesus.

In this passage, we encounter the incredible and glorious love of Jesus, and we see all throughout that he loves his people, he serves his people, he cleanses his people, and he provides a model for his people of love and service.

  1. Jesus loves his people. Notice at the beginning of the passage that it says, “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). That kind of love is remarkable. Jesus knew what was coming – he knew that he would soon be betrayed and beaten and murdered – yet he loved his people, and didn’t stop loving them.
  2. Jesus serves his people. This story never stops amazing me, because we see the humility of Jesus. In the culture of the day, people would need their feet washed by a servant upon entering a house because of all the dust that had collected, and it seems that not only was there no servant to clean the feet in this occasion but that none of the disciples wanted to humble themselves to do it. So, instead, Jesus did! The Son of God who was the Messiah and Savior of the world knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet – even the feet of Judas, whom Jesus knew would betray him. What an incredibly humble, servant attitude that Jesus displayed!
  3. Jesus cleanses his people. Though we take Jesus’ words that “you also should wash one another’s feet” literally and continue to practice the humble service of footwashing, the main point here is that of service and that of cleansing. Peter objected to having Jesus wash his feet, but Jesus tells him, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” Here’s the point: those who are washed and cleansed by Jesus’s redeeming work on the cross need not be fully washed again, but rather only need to be cleansed daily from the filth that gathers. We still sin and we still need to confess our sins and we still need to repent, but if we have been cleansed by the work of Jesus we need only a foot washing, not a full bath, to use Jesus’s analogy.
  4. Jesus models love and service for his people. If Jesus – the Son of God who lived a perfect life and came as the long-awaited Messiah to save his people and who will one day return as a conquering King – can wash his disciples’ feet, then we too can humbly serve others. If Jesus can was the feet of his betrayer, then we too can humbly serve anyone. See, Jesus sets forth a model for us to follow, which we remember through the practice of footwashing continued today but that we live out through our everyday lives. Because Jesus loved us, because Jesus served us, and because Jesus cleansed us, we who believe in him can live our lives loving and serving others because we rest secure in the eternal love of Jesus Christ.

When Carly was nine months old the three of us flew to California. I
was youth pastor at the Grace Brethren Church in Martinsburg, West
Virginia and we were headed for Brethren National Youth Conference.
BNYC is an annual event held in different places around the country
each year.

Sam and I were excited to be taking twelve from our youth group as
well as our young daughter. I figured that by making it to ten states
by the time she was nine months old, if she continued in this pattern,
she would see the whole country by the time she was four. We had given
birth to a world class traveler.

For months we had been having car washes and bake sales to raise money
for our trip but finally the day of departure came. We made a circle
out of our luggage while waiting at the airport and Carly played
contentedly in the middle. We flew from Washington, DC to Denver,
Colorado on a Delta MD 88 without a hitch. During the two hour layover
Carly either played in the circle of carry-on luggage or slept in my
arms. What could have been more wonderful?

When the call came to board the big Delta MD 11 for Los Angeles Sam
changed Carly for what I thought was to be the last time before
arrival in LA. (Sam and I had made the agreement that she would do all
of the changing of the diapers on the ground if I would change all of
the diapers in the air). But about an hour into the flight the sounds
and smells emanating from Carly’s diapered end told me that I had
judged wrongly. But not to fear. How tough could this be?

There wasn’t much extra room in the airplane’s washroom and Carly was
35 pounds at nine months but I had changed our daughter in tight
places before. I carefully positioned Carly on the edge of the sink
and began changing her diaper. Just then, the big MD 11, headed for
Los Angeles, hit some unexpected turbulence. And when I say turbulence
I mean turbulence. Having been on only about 30 flights I would hardly
be considered a seasoned flier but this was by far the worst roller
coaster ride I have ever been on in an airplane.

The plane dropped for what seemed like seconds and both Carly and I
arose into air. I know this happened because I remember grabbing my
daughter while watching the diaper she had filled float into the air
and land upside-down moments later. I was terrified but Carly thought
this to be great fun and began laughing and giggling. I cleaned her up
with baby wipes holding her against my chest while we heaved and
see-sawed around. But I couldn’t get her new diaper on in this
position. I tried but amidst all of the bouncing of the plane and the
shaking of my laughing child I couldn’t manage. So I laid her back
down on the edge of the sink, and raised my knee as a sideboard
against the sink to keep Carly from rolling off the side and to hold
me in place by pushing my back into the opposing wall.

As I concentrated all of my efforts into fastening two little strips
of tape on a Pampers Ultra Absorbent diaper, Carly reached down the
side of the cabinet looking for something with which to amuse herself.
She found the stewardess call button. We were still being bounced
around pretty hard but almost immediately a stewardess began pounding
on the door and yelling, “Are you okay?! Open the door! What is your
present condition?”

I was changing a dirty diaper. I was pinned to the wall giving it all
I had to keep my squirming daughter from falling onto the floor which
was now covered with feminine protection products for which Carly had
found a dispenser, also on the side of the counter. So shouting
through a door and answering a question like, “What is your present
condition?” seemed ridiculous.

I don’t know if the stewardess thought that an older, deaf person was
stranded or just why no answer was forthcoming but she pounded harder
and yelled again, but much slower this time, “Are you okay in there?!”

We had been sitting with the youth group close the front of the coach
section and it suddenly dawned on me that they must have pretty good
seats for observing this little incident concerning their youth
pastor. So I thought that I had better give an answer to the woman. I
shouted back, “We’re fine. I am changing my daughter.”

Just then, another hard jolt of turbulence hit the plane, lifting us
for a moment and then slamming us down again. I don’t know if the
turbulence distracted her or if she just misheard me say, “daughter.”
But the next thing I heard was “Water? You want a drink of water? I’ll
get you a drink, if you come out.”

Having deemed all forms of rational communication impossible I
remained silent, working as quickly as I could. She yelled and beat
the door while I finished dressing my child, cleaning up the old
diaper and putting back the many things Carly had thrown on the floor.
Finally, the turbulence ended. When I opened the washroom door, right
in front of us was the stewardess. I knew it was her by the disheveled
hair, the surprised face, and the blanched look to her skin. In her
hand was half a glass of ice water, the other half she wore down the
front of her uniform. She thrust out the glass of water, I took it
saying, “Thank you very much, this is my daughter, Carly” and went to
my seat. I don’t know if she ever understood or not.

Sam didn’t ask me to change another diaper the whole trip.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A certain builder agreed to be the general contractor for a family’s new home. Things went well  . . . at first.

But the framing crew failed to put the studs for the kitchen walls where they were supposed to be. The mistake wasn’t discovered until it was time to install the kitchen cabinets. Unfortunately, there was not enough room to install the cabinetry the family had selected.

In the basement, the plumbers installed drains for an adjoining bathroom and laundry room. It wasn’t until after the concrete was poured that it was discovered that the drains were right in the middle of where the family room was supposed to be!

There were other problems as well. What was the family supposed to do? What was the general contractor supposed to say? The construction project needed an extreme makeover even before the new home was finished.

Now, there’s another construction project that often faces problems. Based on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the construction of the church in Corinth is an example. There were all kinds of problems.

The point is, the community of believers is an ongoing building project. It’s a house under construction, and Jesus is the general contractor. He said, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). Later he qualified that: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). So the building project is in effect now in our hands. We’re the sub-contractors and laborers.

Actually, this is the most important building project in all of history. It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. And in him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-21). Wow! It’s more than a house. It’s a temple!

Unfortunately, sin raises its ugly head from time to time and interferes with Jesus’ construction project. And that’s where today’s text comes into play. Jesus gave specific instructions for what to do when someone fails on the job and falls into sin. (Note that the newest version of the NIV and other recent versions omit the words “against you” in Matt 18:15, because the earliest Greek manuscripts do not have those words.)

Jesus’ instructions involved some extreme measures, but they’re necessary for the building of this holy temple. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple . . . ? God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). If problems come up in this construction project, Jesus gave specific protocol for dealing with the sin. Let’s be bold and do what he said.

DBS