Mark 1:21-45 – The Touch of the Savior

We concluded our last study with life’s single most important question: Why should I also follow Jesus? This is the bottom-line question that each Gospel writer seeks to answer by telling us who Jesus is and why He should matter to us. Now, Matthew, on the one hand, introduces us to Jesus by letting us listen to what Jesus says via the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). John, on the other hand, introduces us to Jesus by having us observe Jesus in a series of interactions with individuals – the woman at the well, Nicodemus, etc. But it is the Gospel writer Mark who chooses to introduce us to Jesus by letting us watch what Jesus does.

21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, NKJV)

From here, the pace of the story rapidly picks up! Right after church, Jesus goes straight to Simon’s house and heals his mother-in-law with a simple touch. It doesn’t take long for the entire city to figure out that something wonderful is happening in their neighborhood: “At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door” (verses 32-33). I like how Luke expands on this: “and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40). On every one of them… I love this. Not one of us is excluded from the touch of our Redeemer’s hand! Not one of our situations is too far gone, too wretched, too advanced, or too difficult for our Savior’s healing: “No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one” (verse 40, NLT).

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (verse 35, NKJV). The pace of the story has been fast and intense up to this point, but finally, as the reader, we catch a break. We can finally take a deep breath… And what an appropriate opportunity to do so. It is crucial that we don’t skip past this verse. Take a moment with me to simply pause and drink the scene in… Jesus, finally alone with His Father. At last, the opportunity to rest in God’s Presence and to listen for His Father’s comforting whisper. Jesus is preparing Himself for what will come the following day. He is storing up the Spirit-given wisdom that He will need to discern His Father’s will in every coming challenge and circumstance. If Jesus, the sinless Son of God, needed His quiet, alone time in the secret place with the Father, how badly must we need it, too?

Yet, Jesus quiet hours of solitude and prayer are interrupted all too soon. Jesus will now put into action the discerning direction given by His Father from His night of prayer:

36 And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37 When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

39 And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. (Mark 1:36-39)

Although the community pleads with Jesus to stay, Jesus knows that His true mission has begun and He must move forward in His ministry. Those who carry the mission of God cannot—must not—remain comfortably, stagnantly in the same place. We must learn from Jesus’ example. Sometimes we, too, must say “no” to the din of demands and competing “responsibilities” in our lives. Sometimes we must say NO to a hundred reasonable, logical obligations “to ourselves” and “to others,” so that we can say YES to the one call that really matters. I love what Oswald Chambers writes:

“My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender… An overweening consideration of ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others… Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only—my Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. (Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

As we follow Jesus and His small band of followers as they continue their journey, we are next confronted with one of the most dramatic and shocking accounts in the Gospel story. Bear with me for a moment as I attempt to imagine the scene:

Jesus and his followers carefully make their way down the rough Galilean trail. As dusk begins to settle, they reach the outskirts of their next city. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are excitedly conversing about the miraculous events they have witnessed over the last few days. Suddenly, a cloaked shadow plunges in front of their path. What is it? Is it an animal? A man? The figure stops for a moment, as in a daze, and then stumbles straight toward Jesus. In the clumsiness of his effort, the figure’s hood falls back behind his head, exposing one of the most revolting sights to be seen. A leper! (Luke describes this man as “full of leprosy” which means he was in the most advanced stage of the disease!) The disciples recoil in disdain and disgust. The man’s exposed face looks like that of a demonic monster, half of his disfigured face has been eaten away by the putrefying infection. Andrew stands back in paralyzed silence, but Peter, James, and John quickly grab heavy and sharp stones to hurl at the repulsive creature, a man cursed by the very finger of God! Only the quick and decisive hand motion of Jesus stops them from heaving their stones.

The air hangs heavy with unnerving silence. Only the quiet, gentle, unflinching stare of Jesus gives the leprous man the courage to take the last few steps forward. He collapses to his knees and prostrates himself on the ground. Groveling at the feet of Christ and struggling to control his labored breathing, the man hoarsely wheezes, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (verse 40). Jesus doesn’t say anything at first. The disciples take this as their signal to ready their arms for strong, swift blows at the man—a man who has blatantly broken the Jewish laws of leprosy, daring to contaminate others with his curse. The disciples await the slightest signal from Christ to heave their weapons. The man presses his face to the dirt and braces himself for the sharp impact of hurled stones. But Jesus doesn’t give the awaited signal. Instead, Jesus slowly closes his eyes in distress and His face contorts, as if in pain… Jesus is experiencing splagchnizomai—literally in Greek, to be moved to the bowels with gut-wrenching compassion.

The disciples watch in shocked horror as Jesus then slowly stoops to the rotting, living corpse and extends His hand to do the unthinkable.  Instead of the painful blows of stones, the man feels a touch. A gentle yet firm touch. Jesus’ hand tenderly unfolds on the man’s bare head and then lovingly, almost-caressingly moves down his neck, finally resting in a firm grip on the his shoulder. The man shudders beneath the touch. He has not felt the hand of a human hand in years.  The touch is horribly uncomfortable to his benumbed body, almost painful. The man quivers in silence, not even daring to hope for what might come next. Jesus then speaks for the first time. His words pierce the oppressive silence: “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Emanating from the heavy hand on his shoulder, an electrifying shock of sensation pulses through the man’s entire being. In an instant, he feels everything—the tingling skin of his fingertips, the coarse rub of his tattered garment, the ticklish trace of the shoes on his feet, even the pain of his tender face pressed against the stony ground! The man abruptly looks up and his eyes are immediately met with the loving gaze of Jesus. He is cleansed; he is healed!

In that moment, the gospel is proclaimed—a more dramatic, exhilarating demonstration of the gospel message than could ever have been imagined! Friends, this is the unfolding revelation of the good-news message that Mark so desperately wants us to see. Mark chapter 1 begins with a vague hope, barely a whisper, of the good things that we might be able to expect from this Man who claims to be the Son of God. The chapter then progresses through the escalating miracles that this Man can perform and authority that this Man holds. And it all culminates to the unthinkable touch of the Savior’s hand –a touch that has the power make the sick well, the demoniacs restored, the broken whole, and the unclean cleansed. A touch that can change the course of history!

Mark chapter 1 ends in a cliff-hanger, I guess you could say. From such a fast-paced, short-term exposure to the narrative, we as “the first time reader” still know hardly anything at all about this Jesus guy. But one thing is certain: We absolutely must find out what happens next!

The Tabernacle

In Exodus chapters 25 through 30, God outlines to the Hebrews what a holy community in His Presence will look like. In this plan, God will use a very special physical structure, the tabernacle, as the access point for His Presence among His people. To begin with, the entire Israelite family is invited to participate in the preparation of this sacred tent. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them'” (Exodus 25:1-2, NLT). A couple of important points here. 1.) The people must offer the very best of what they had. 2.) The people were only to give from a willing heart – no begrudged, obligatory offering was to be accepted. 3.) The needed gifts outlined in verses 2-7 were broad and diverse. Everything from pure gold to common goats hair would be needed for this project! These points should remind us of a few things when it comes to ministry in God’s service, don’t you think?

The chapter goes on to describe the special articles of furniture in the sanctuary. First and foremost, we read about the Ark of the Covenant which was placed in the Most Holy Place. This special case would house the law of God, the Ten Commandments engraved in stone. The box would be covered by an intricately-crafted cover, known as the “atonement cover” or the “mercy seat.” “I will meet with you there,” God says to Moses, “and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22, NLT). One commentator points out here how incredibly surprising this arrangement was. You see, the Hebrews were surrounded by pagan cultures which built grand, elaborate temples to their gods. These temples would house massive and impressive statues of the various gods. “Yet, here was Yahweh telling Moses to build a tabernacle and He would meet them in the empty space between the angels above the Ark. No image or idol of Yahweh was to be constructed. Yahweh could not be reduced or reproduced” (Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Talks: Pastoral Devotionals from Exodus, CRI/Voice, Institute). God’s Presence resided in the empty space above–not inside–the ark! Just as Yahweh’s very name (“I AM THAT I AM”) defies any sense of boundary or restriction, so His Presence cannot and will not be contained in our narrow boxes or controlled by our capricious demands.

Three other furniture items lived in the Holy Place of the sanctuary – the Table of the Bread of Presence, the Lampstand (also known as the Menorah), and the Altar of Incense. Each of these represented God’s Presence and relationship with the Hebrew community, and each of these items also symbolize vital aspects of our Christian walk today. The Bread of the Presence, for example, reminded Israel of their constant dependence on God’s provision, and it ultimately pointed forward to Jesus Christ: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). I like to compare the Bread of Presence in my own life with time spent reading God’s Word and enjoying His fellowship, remembering that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NET).

The Lampstand was to provide continuous light in the Tabernacle tent. It was to be intricately decorated like an almond tree. In Hebrew, the word for “almond” and the word “watchful” sound almost identical. We can observe this clever play on of words in Jeremiah 1:11-12: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Look, Jeremiah! What do you see?’ And I replied, ‘I see a branch from an almond tree.’ And the Lord said, ‘That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.'” The Lampstand, then, would remind Israel of the LORD’s ceaseless watchfulness and care. From my own life-application perspective, I feel that the Lampstand of my heart’s sanctuary is lit whenever I share the love of Christ or reflect His character to those around me. (See Matthew 5:13-16, John 8:12, Ephesians 5:7-14, and 2 Corinthians 3:18.) For yourself, what do you compare the Lampstand with in your spiritual walk?

The last piece of furniture was the Altar of Incense. It was to be placed directly outside of the Most Holy Place so that its incense-laden vapors could waft over the curtain into God’s Shekinah Presence. Revelation 8:4 reminds us that incense symbolizes the prayers of God’s people. I like how one commentator expounds upon this:

While the priest could not see through the curtain into Yahweh’s Presence, he could be assured that the fragrance of the incense passed through the curtain and permeated the air that Yahweh was breathing. We like to think of ourselves as becoming filled with the breath or Spirit of God. Here we have God breathing/inhaling the prayers of our lives. Imagine that. God breathing in the prayers and cries of our hearts, and then breathing out His Spirit upon and within us in response to those cries. Often times God seems removed, out of sight, perhaps even beyond reach. But the fragrance of our lives rises before God in prayer, penetrating the curtains of heaven. (Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Talks: Pastoral Devotionals from Exodus, CRI/Voice, Institute)

The one final point that really struck me about the design of the tabernacle was the fact every piece of it was intended for travel. So much is written about the poles and the specifics of how the articles were to be transported. God really meant it when He said He would dwell–move in–with His people. He was ready to go all the way them, wherever they journeyed! That must also say something about how serious God is when He says to us, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I pray that this powerful reminder will bless your day as much as it has mine.

“That I may dwell among them”

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”
(Exodus 25:8)

When we studied Exodus 24 last time together, we read of the seemingly-insurmountable rift of separation between God and the people. In fact in verses 1-2, God even says, “All of you must worship from a distance. Only Moses is allowed to come near to the Lord. The others must not come near, and none of the other people are allowed to climb up the mountain with him” (Exodus 24:1-2, NLT). The situation seems pretty clear cut. God is holy. The people are not. Therefore, both parties will never be able to exist in each other’s presence. But when we move to Exodus 25, we begin to grasp the amazing realization that God actually had a plan this entire time to close that distance and breach that barrier of separation. Before the fall, mankind enjoyed complete, unhindered fellowship with their Creator. Once the rebellion happened, however, we humans created our own veil of sin separating us from our Heavenly Father. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, NKJV). Yet, in Exodus 25-31, with the introduction of the plans for the tabernacle, we begin to see the Father start to close that rift. The amazing reality is that God actually wants to dwell among us. He desires to “move in” with His people.

It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of Exodus 25 verse 8 and how it fits into the comprehensive biblical story. From a literary perspective, this verse acts as a “hinge point” in the scriptural narrative. God will once again make His home among His children. What a mind-blowing prospect! And yet, as we continue to read through Exodus and Leviticus and so on, it doesn’t take us long to realize that there are still some serious limitations with this sanctuary business. God’s Presence among the people is limited to a single physical structure. Additionally, the people must rely on the mediatorial ministry of the priests on their behalf. They are still unable to access God directly. And from God’s perspective, this arrangement simply isn’t good enough.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV). And so, in a breathtaking move that would alter the course of history, God executed the next step in His plan: He sent Jesus Christ to BE the tabernacle among us – the living, breathing manifestation of God. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message). In three and a half years, Jesus with His little band of followers would change the world. Yet, God’s plan was still not complete. The Person of Jesus Christ, while on earth, was still limited to a single physical place at any given point in time. At the end of His ministry, Jesus must tell His tearful disciples why He would need to go away for a while: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).

The next step, Jesus instructed His followers, would be for the Holy Spirit to come. A special outpouring of God’s Presence into our lives. And where does that leave us now?

So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, HCSB)

Unbelievable as it is, God is now able to become more Present in our lives than was ever imagined possible! You see, God’s Tabernacle among us is no longer limited by physical space. WE are His new tabernacle! “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” (1 Peter 2:5, NLT). Through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, God dwells within our very hearts and minds. Our Heavenly Father is completely present, totally engaged in each one of our lives, every moment, every breath of every day. And, in turn, we as the church body are to serve as the vessels of God’s Presence–His Shekinah glory–to the perishing world around us.

And yet, we know this can’t be the end of the story. There’s something still desperately wrong with the reality in which we find ourselves: “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering…” (Romans 8:23). There now remains just one final step in God’s plan of restoration for His people. It’s the event–the moment–we’re all holding out for with everything we’ve got:

And I heard a loud voice, which came from the throne, say, ‘God’s dwelling place is among men and He will dwell among them and they shall be His peoples. Yes, God Himself will be among them’…

I saw no sanctuary in the city, for the Lord God, the Ruler of all, is its Sanctuary, and so is the Lamb (Revelation 21:3, 22, Weymouth New Testament)

The Lord God Himself will be our sanctuary… No more need for a physical tabernacle structure in this coming City. Because our Heavenly Father is at last able to fully and completely dwell among His people. No more sin, no more suffering, no more separation.

“The LORD is my banner”

At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded… “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:1-2, NLT)

Our chapter starts out with a somewhat sobering thought… It can be a bit of a scary thing to read “At the Lord’s command…” and “but there was no water” in the same verse. Perhaps our first lesson here is that sometimes God can lead us through difficult roads in life, but we must remember that hardships and trials do not mean that our Heavenly Father has ceased to guide us.

In their panic, the people cry out to Moses, wrongly channeling their desperation to human sources. Moses, however, cries out to God–the only true Source of help. Notice the LORD’s answer to Moses in Exodus 17:5. I think verse 5 can be broken down to three life-application points to aid us when we face life’s challenges, especially if we operate in a leadership role: 1.) “Walk out in front of the people.” Never forget that people are watching! In fact, it is often when challenges come our way that others will examine our lives most closely. Use these challenges as an opportunity to lead others! As we read in 1 Timothy 4:12, “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 2.) “Take your staff…” Utilize the resources that are available to you–even if it’s just a stick! Do what is in your realm of control, however limited, and trust that God will do what is in His realm of control. 3.) “Call some of the elders of Israel to join you.” Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Surround yourself with a team of fellow believers who share the vision and the mission!

The subsequent miracle of the water from the rock reflects Christ’s mission on this earth. We read in John 7:37-38, “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, ‘Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” 1 Corinthians 10:4 also tells us, “[All] of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.” What a beautiful illustration of Christ’s sacrifice and provision for us.

In the next section of Exodus 17, we read of a cruel and dastardly attack by the Amalekites. Deuteronomy 25 informs us that they actually assaulted Israel at the rear of the camp, where the elderly and children lingered. As the Israelites begin their counterattack, Moses climbs a nearby hill and raises his hands over the fray. As long as Moses holds his hands up over the battle, the Israelites have the advantage. But as soon as he drops his hands, the Amalekites begin to dominate. So what’s the big deal about Moses holding his hands up? What Moses is actually doing is engaging in the Hebrew posture of prayer–he’s praying and interceding for his people. But this kind of life-or-death intercession prayer is emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausting. Moses’ strength begins to fail. He realizes that this is a task–a mission–that he cannot accomplish alone. Moses must depend on two of his trusted friends to support him in this vital endeavor, upon which Israel’s victory depends. Sounds a lot like what we talked about above, right? This Christian walk is not something that you can do solo. Even our prayers are limited in effectiveness if we try to do it all on our own! It is essential to engage ourselves in the church community and to surround ourselves with other Christ followers.

“After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, ‘Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder…’ Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner’)” (Exodus 17:14-15). Where are the altars in your life? What has been written on your scroll as a permanent reminder of what the LORD has done for you? As one of my favorite authors writes, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us…” This passage also introduces a new name for God, a new way of understanding His character and His relationship to us. “The LORD is my banner.” What is a banner? What functions does it serve? I can think of a few: 1.) Banners designate ownership. 2.) Banners act as a rallying point during battle. Prior to modern warfare, as long as you could still see your army’s flag in the fray, you knew you still stood a chance in the fight! 3.) Banners announce victory! A victorious army receives the right to take down an enemy’s flag and raise its own. Can you reflect on how God has been your banner in each of these aspects? The thing with a banner, though, is that it’s easy to wrap up and put away. Yet, a banner doesn’t do any good tucked away, does it? It ceases to perform any useful function. The only way a banner can serve its intended purpose is to unfurl it and fly it high. I want to close out my week by flying high God’s banner of ownership and victory in my life. What about you?

The Lukewarm Church – Laodicea

We have reached our final destination in our journey through the seven churches – the church of Laodicea. Please take some time to read Revelation 3:14-22 so you can follow along.

We immediately notice that Laodicea is the only church to receive absolutely no praise or commendation. Jesus does not waste time with flattery or undeserved praise:

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17, NLT)

Wow. Christ’s words are not minced are they? Smugly self-satisfied, the Laodiceans have lulled themselves into a death spell. This is not just an apathetic church; this is an arrogant church. It’s a church that prides itself in its own spiritual “wealth” of knowledge and its own garments of righteousness. There is not a more dangerous place for a church to be than this state of arrogant indifference! Jesus pleads with the church to recognize their true state of wretched need. Jesus then invites all to come to Himself! He is the ultimate source of everything the church needs for victory:

So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. (Revelation 3:18-19, NLT)

The pure gold offered by Christ represents the truth and faith which our spiritual walk is established on. He gives His garments of righteousness which transform our character into His spotless image. And then, there’s the eye salve. With His healing eye salve, we will be able to see ourselves as we really are – sinful and in desperate need of a Savior! But most importantly, we will have sight with which to clearly see Jesus Christ, and it is by looking into His wonderful face, “that the things on earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” By beholding Him, we become transformed from the inside out!

 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV)

In Revelation 3 verse 20, we find one of the most amazing invitations in Scripture: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT). As I was growing up, my mom kept this picture in one of our family rooms. It made an impression on me from a young age.

BeholdIStandAtTheDoorI love how this picture illustrates the Savior knocking gently and softly calling, “Hello? Is anyone home?” Also notice another small detail: there is no knob or handle on the outside of the door… The door can only be opened from the inside. This is the door to our hearts and Jesus cannot – He will not! – force His way in. We alone must make the choice to welcome Him.

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to conclude our study on the seven churches. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. We’ve spent the first chapters of Revelation getting to know what He’s like and what He’s all about. Now, as we face the subsequent chapters of Revelation and the sobering future that they unveil, we have a choice to make… Will we let Him in? Will we let Jesus be our Guide and Companion through as we journey through these last days of human history?

The Loving Church – Philadelphia

Of all the churches we’ve journeyed through, I get most excited about the church of Philadelphia. Hands down! Why? It’s the one other church (besides the persecuted church of Smyrna) that receives no rebuke from Jesus, only affirmation! This church “gets it,” and, as a result, there’s much that we can learn from this little group of believers.

In Revelation 3:7-13, Jesus opens His letter to the Philadelphia church by making an important claim: “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (vs. 7, NKJV). Jesus’ words become extremely meaningful when we understand the background to the Philadelphian story. Verse 9 clues us in to the fact that this church has undergone vicious persecutory attacks from fellow religious brothers and sisters. This persecution arose either from the Jewish synagogue community from where the church grew out of, or from false Christians who have driven the faithful Philadelphian believers out of a larger congregation body. These false believers have essentially slammed the door in the face of this church of Philadelphia. In a sense, they’ve attempted to restrict access to God’s spiritual “temple.” But Jesus says, I alone have the key of David… “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Jesus assures His faithful followers that He will publicly affirm them one day and that the false believers will be forced to “acknowledge that you are the ones I love” (NLT).

When it comes to what this church is doing right, verses 8 and 10 give us the outline: “for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name… you have kept My command to persevere…” (NLT) I think we can break this down into four points, four areas which we can model our own church after:

  • For you have a little strength… This is a church that first and foremost recognizes its own weakness. The congregation depends not on their own strength but on the strength of Jesus Christ!
  • Have kept My word… This is a church that has immersed itself in the Word of God! The believers have dug their roots deeply down into Scripture, where they draw their strength and spiritual nourishment.
  • Have not denied My name… This church centers its identity in Christ Jesus – His name, His character, His mission!
  • You have kept My command… This church obeys the Word of God! (Enough said!)

Because of their faithfulness, Jesus gives wonderful words of promise for the Philadelphian church: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God” (vs. 12, NLT). Did you catch the additional references to the temple? Despite being excluded from the “temple” community of their false brethren, Jesus promises to make the Philadelphians pillars in His real temple. Jesus is promising the believers full, unhindered access to His very own eternal Presence! He also promises to write His name—His character and identity—on them. When Solomon constructed the first temple, he erected two principal pillars and he named them Jakin and Boaz. Jakin means “He establishes,” and Boaz means “in Him is strength.” This church recognizes its own weaknesses, but now Jesus promises to establish them in HIS strength!

I pray that our own church can be modeled after the faithfulness of the Philadelphians. But it all starts with individuals. It all starts when we each depend on Christ for our strength, immerse ourselves in Scripture, center our purpose in Jesus Christ, and obey His Word!

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?