God wins

We are currently working through Revelation in our evening services at Trinity CRC. Revelation is the last book of the Bible, penned by the apostle John as he received a remarkable vision from Jesus himself. For many people it is a “closed” book, very difficult to read and understand. That’s both sad and ironic, considering how the word revelation itself comes from the word revealGraphic found at crosswalk.comand God very much wants to reveal things to us as we read Revelation!

I admit that Revelation is not always the easiest part of the Bible to read. But it’s not as terribly complicated as you might think. The message of Revelation can be summarized in two hope-filled words: “God wins!” Knowing that God currently reigns and will reign forever, his people confidently follow him and serve others. Granted, this is not easy, and Revelation acknowledges that in its vivid descriptions of the forces that distract us from purposeful living grounded in Christ and guided by the Bible. Thankfully, Revelation also shows how God is stronger than all those bad influences combined. What’s more, he is always present with his people, even in the toughest times.

One author who’s helped me understand Revelation a bit better is theologian and preacher Fleming Rutledge. I love this part from her book The Bible and The New York Times:

The book of Revelation has taken a bad rap. Once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t all that difficult. It shouldn’t be left to the David Koresh’s of the world. Almost all reputable interpreters today recognize that Revelation is poetry and liturgy. It is not a Rand McNally map of heaven. It is not a timetable for the end of the world. It is not a “Bible Code.” It is by no means as weird as we have been led to believe. It is full of encouragement, hope, and comfort, especially for oppressed people. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was fighting the good fight against apartheid all those decades, he used to say, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book! We win!” The celestial vision arises out of the Revelation of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God who reigns in heaven and who has drawn back the curtain just for a moment to allow us a glimpse of God’s future. (page 17)

In Christ, we win in the end, no matter how bleak things might sometimes look. My mistakes, brokenness, and sin – even my death – will not have the last word. God will. Personally, that fills me with a lot of hope and gives me purpose today. The next time you have an open Bible in front of you, find some of that hope and purpose for yourself in Revelation.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I’ve shared the quote from Fleming Rutledge
before.

Encounter at a well

In John’s Gospel you find a story about Jesus discussing theology near a well with a Samaritan woman. This is shocking on a number of levels: 1. The Jews of Jesus’ day despised Samaritans and did everything they could to avoid them. 2. Jewish men in that culture did not address women in public. 3. Women in that culture were not deemed fit to learn theology. Despite all this, Woman at the Well by Wayne ForteJesus, a Jewish male, has a deep theological conversation with a Samaritan woman – in fact, it’s the longest section of dialogue in John’s Gospel.

Things get even more scandalous: It turns out that the woman’s marital history is unusual at best: She has been married five times and seems to currently be living common-law with a sixth man. Traditionally scholars assumed she has been living in adultery, thoughtlessly jumping from one marriage to another. But other research suggests that she may have been the victim of a combination of husbands passing away and/or husbands issuing her a certificate of divorce if they were dissatisfied with her (perhaps she is unable to bear children). We don’t know for sure, but, whatever her past, she seems to currently be in a sad, less-than-ideal situation.

We’re told Jesus knows all this ahead of time. Maybe a local had been chatting with Jesus when they both saw the woman approach and he warned Jesus not to become the woman’s sixth husband! I personally think Jesus in His divinity simply recognizes this woman as she approaches the well.

Regardless, Jesus knows this woman’s sad story of multiple marriages and non-ideal circumstances. I see grace in how Jesus still offers her the gift of living water despite her background and dubious past. As Prof. Darrell W. Johnson pointed out in the course I took last spring at Regent College on the Gospel of John, this story proves how my problems are neither a surprise nor an obstacle for Jesus. He invites me to own up to them and find healing in Him.

Jesus speaks of people worshiping in the Spirit and truth. I can be truthful with myself and with Jesus about what’s wrong and what’s hurting in my life. There’s no point in hiding it – He already knows. The amazing thing is that He also cares and is powerful enough to address my problems. His living water – the gift of His Holy Spirit – is still for me.

It makes me want to worship Him.

Unpacking John 3:16

Tomorrow at Trinity CRC, I speak on John 3, which includes the most famous verse in the whole Bible:

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In his commentary on John, Frederick Dale Bruner shares how he once saw John 3:16 laid out. It helped me read this well-known verse afresh again!

John 3.16

Jesus needs better P.R.

I can understand why people question the sorts of things Jesus does (and doesn’t do) when He appears to His followers after His resurrection. For example, each of the Gospels agree that it was a group of women who discovered the empty tomb. And Matthew and John specifically report that it was to Mary Magdalene and other women that Jesus first appeared. Why couldn’t it have been Pilate who discovered the empty tomb and encountered Jesus? Can you imagine the resurrected Jesus saying to Pilate, “Remember me?” Imagine the power of Pilate’s testimony! But Jesus chooses to only appear to His followers and, firstly, to some of the women who were part of his entourage.

The Risen Lord Appears by He Qi

Recall that in Jesus’ day it was a man’s world; women were seen as less important than their male counterparts. Religious teachers believed that teaching women was a waste of time. Women could not even be witnesses at a court trial. Jesus came into a world where, as one writer puts it, “the cards were stacked against women.”

So when Jesus appears for the first time following His resurrection to women, it’s tempting to think Jesus should have first consulted with a public relations expert who might have directed Him to instead dazzle the influential movers and shakers of society (read: men!). Even John Calvin ponders how “it may be thought strange” that the Gospel writers “do not produce more competent witnesses.”

Well, it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I believe Jesus knew what He was doing. Among other things, Jesus affirms that women are equally capable as men of encountering the risen Christ. And Jesus affirms women can be entrusted to proclaim the Good News of Easter. In a culture that consistently did the opposite, Jesus honors women by ensuring they are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

In addition, that the Gospels report that Jesus first appeared to women helps me believe that the stories are in fact true. If the early church made up this story, why would they have chosen women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection? No ancient author would have done that! I like how Frederick Dale Bruner puts it in his commentary on the Gospel of John:

The very fact that our four Gospels all attest to precisely women as the first witnesses to the Empty Tomb shows the newborn Church’s serene confidence in the credibility of the fact of the Resurrection – and its respect for women. For if the Church had wanted to fortify her faith in the Resurrection, she would “found” male witnesses to The Gospel of John - A Commentary by F. Dale Brunergive the first testimonies to the Empty Tomb. The initial female witnesses in all four Gospels solidifies, paradoxically, the credibility of the Church’s faith in the Resurrection and her calm assurance of the Resurrection’s factuality. (pp. 1144-1145)

I guess Jesus doesn’t need better P.R. after all.

Artwork: The Risen Lord Appears by He Qi.
Find out more about
his art and faith here.