A Tale of Seven Churches – Part 2

Hello, again! Earlier this week, I shared part one of our study on the first chapter of Revelation. Today, we’ll pick up where we left off and finish discussing what we learned together in our Stepping Stones class. I hope these devotional thoughts will be a blessing to your day.

I, John… was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” (Revelation 1:9, 11)

As John enters the prophetic vision, he hears a voice booming behind him: “I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:11). This detail is significant. You see, in our Western way of thinking, we look at the future as something that is ahead of us – something that we walk into. But Hebrew thought pictured the past as ahead of us, because past events are fully spread out in front of our perception; while the future, on the other hand, is situated behind us – something that we walk backwards into. So the fact that the voice comes from behind means that Jesus is reassuring us: “Have no fear of the future. I am already here! I am the First and the Last. I am in complete control.” (Compare with Isaiah 30:21.) What an encouraging promise!

John next describes Christ in His priestly vestments walking among seven golden lampstands. In the ancient Hebrew sanctuary, the priests were responsible for maintaining the sacred seven-branched flames of the candelabra at all times. Here, we see a picture of our ultimate High Priest doing the same thing with the heavenly candelabra – representing the universal church of God’s people. These lampstands, of course, signify the seven churches which we are about to study in depth. As we read about these seven churches, we’re going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of God’s people. We’re going to see trials and hardships beyond description, as well as horrific failures on the part of God’s church. But the good news is that Jesus will still, in spite of everything, choose to walk among His people and carefully nurture their flames. Jesus sticks with His people through it all.

As John attempts to take all of this in, he is overwhelmed and falls down as if dead. And this is John we’re talking about, the Beloved Disciple who walked with Jesus Christ as His constant companion for three and a half years. We can even venture to say that John was Jesus’ best friend while on earth. Yet, when John encounters the glorified Christ, he is so overcome by the explosion of power and glory of Christ’s presence that he simply falls to the ground as though he were dead! (We sometimes focus so much on the familiar humanity of Christ that we forget about His breathtaking power and holiness, don’t we?) But, then, look at the next words we read. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!'” (Revelation 1:17-18). If John falls nearly-dead at Jesus’ feet, then that means that the glorified King of the Universe is now kneeling down to place His comforting right hand on John. He offers the reassuring words, “Don’t be afraid, John! It’s Me – your friend Jesus. The One who you saw die on the Cross and then come back to life… and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

That, friends, is the promise that Jesus wants to leave us with as we venture into Revelation 2 and 3. It is also the promise that Jesus wants to give us before we rush into our day today. Every problem or challenge we face today should be placed in perspective of this mind-blowing promise. Christ has duked it out with Death and Hell, and He has emerged as the winner! Don’t you think He can handle the problems we face in our lives today?

A Tale of Seven Churches – Part 1

Hi, friends! This is Cece from Stepping Stones @ Dallas First Church. We’ve taken a little break since we last did a Stepping Stones blog, but, with this month’s gripping new series “A Tale of Seven Churches,” we definitely want to share what we will be learning together in the Stepping Stones class! John’s prophetic letter to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 offer us a wealth of insight and relevant life-application lessons which we can assimilate into our daily Christian walk. This last Saturday, I had the opportunity to teach as we dove into Revelation chapter 1 for an introduction to the seven churches. I hope you’ll be blessed by this devotional recap of the study.

Revelation… the Apocalypse… Brings a lot of images to mind, don’t you think? Scary beasts, demonic creatures, bowls of wrathful judgement, deadly plagues, the Antichrist! In fact, I googled “Revelation” just for kicks and this is one of the first images that popped up:

There is so much confusion and fear surrounding this book that we often forget what any of it is really about. It’s not the “Revelation of the Beast,” or the “Revelation of the Antichrist,” or even the “Revelation of the End Times” – it’s the Revelation of Jesus Christ! And, too, we can find ourselves getting so caught up with the “message of warning” and “the prophecies of judgment” that we forget what God’s very first message is to us: “Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits [or “the Sevenfold Spirit” – that is, the Holy Spirit] who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:4-5). That, friends, is what our Heavenly Father wants us to know before we progress any further! Grace to you and peace. And it’s a salutation from the entire Trinity! That means that each Person of the Godhead is completely invested in speaking this grace and peace into our lives. It’s the grace and peace that one can only know when experiencing a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.

As we progress through verses 4-6, we next read about three astounding attributes of Christ: the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Notice John then follows by relating these attributes to three actions which represent the three stages of Jesus’ redemptive ministry:

  1. The faithful witness: “who loves us” – He became incarnated as a man, the Faithful Witness to testify of the Father’s love for us!
  2. The firstborn from the dead: “has washed us from our sins in His own blood” – He died for us!
  3. The ruler of kings: “has made us to be a kingdom of priests” – Because of the power of His resurrection, He has used His own royal authority to grant us the right to reign as kings and minister as priests with Him!

These verses essentially give us the Good News in a nutshell! In fact, it is no coincidence that they even line up point by point with the gospel message of John 3:16. In both passages, we see God’s love demonstrated by His sacrifice and mercy towards us:

“For God so loved the world” (John)
“Jesus Christ loved us” (Revelation)
“that He gave His only begotten Son” (John)
“[He] washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation)
“so that whosoever believes should not perish” (John)
“[He] has made us kings and priests unto God” (Revelation)

These introductory set the stage for the rest of the story. Of course, we all know that Revelation contains some pretty heavy stuff. But before we get any further, we have to get our perspective straight. It’s as if God is saying to us: “Before you continue in this book, stop! I want you to know that it’s all about My Son Jesus!” Everything, absolutely everything, comes after and in perspective of the gospel message. We dare not venture further into this study without a full appreciation of the primary and central role of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Before, we go any further in our study, I want to invite you to take some time to meditate and think on what we have learned so far. Let the Father’s invitation into the grace and peace of Jesus permeate every part of your day today.

And, by the way, remember that first picture I showed you? That picture that supposedly illustrates what the book of Revelation is all about? Well, we need to take that picture, throw it in the trash bin of our minds and hearts, and replace it with this one:

(Artwork: “Light of the World” by Nathan Greene: http://www.nathangreene.com)

BASIC. Communion.

This post is way behind, but I wanted to finish out the BASIC series before starting our new one because it’s been such a fantastic study! Take some time to watch this short video by Pastor Chan on the Lord’s Supper:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 46–47)

I imagine that communion looked pretty different back then compared to what it looks like today. While there are good organizational reasons that we practice communion the way we do today in many churches, we can’t let ourselves forget the point of it all. What did it mean for the early church to break bread together? It was about loving each other like a family. It was about stripping away all of the formality and fluff of traditions and just worshipping and fellowshipping together in primitive godliness and simple authenticity. I like the point that Pastor Chan makes in his study guide:

While this type of gathering is more basic, there’s a scary side to it. I mean, in the old way, you could hide. You could attend a service, and maybe help out in the nursery, and maybe even sing in the choir, and then during the rest of the time, you could build your own kingdom and live your own life.

But there’s something about this idea of true communion – of true participation in breaking the Lord’s bread together – that we just can’t get away from. We have to look past the surface of the communion ordinance and really dig into what’s going on there. We have to remember the depth of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and remember that communion should stand out in our time together as a church and be the most sacred of fellowship experiences.

But how can we ever get to this point? How will we ever make this happen???

the beautiful thing is that, by God’s Spirit, He puts this desire in our hearts, where I want this. You want this. Because it’s something that God is doing. Jesus said that He’s going to build His church. The question is, do you want to be a part of it? To stop attending … and to really be the church … the true church. (Francis Chan, BASIC Study Guide)

Are we ready to stop doing church and start being the church?

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)