What might we say is the significance of John addressing Revelation to the seven churches that are in Asia? It does two things. First, it grounds it in reality. This gives the book credibility as attested to by the naming of actual places and actual churches residing in those places.
John ends the prologue of Revelation in verse three with a three-part blessing. The blessing is proclaimed on the one who reads, those who hear, and who keep what is written. What John is writing here must be interpreted within the context of the community of faith.
It’s the First Century, the early days of the of the Post-Pentecost Church. Something is in the air. There is change on the wind. You can feel it like electricity, clinging to you, causing the hair on your arm to stand up. It has been 50-60 years since the Spirit fell on the apostles and disciples in that upper room.
The Gospel is simple to confess. That is, we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone, without the works of the Law. And so long as we don't add any limits, measures, or conditions to this, the Gospel is easy to confess to others. The message that we are justified by faith alone through Christ Jesus is good news anyone can deliver.
It may seem like a strange place to begin: the end of the beginning. But the pattern of Revelation is one of continually circling back to the beginning, proceeding to the end, and repeating the process again from a different perspective. At the center of it all is the comforting and confident message that Jesus reigns.
I do not mean to give the impression that the Law should be despised. Neither does Paul intend to leave that impression. The Law ought to be honored. But when it is a matter of justification before God, Paul had to speak disparagingly of the Law, because the Law has nothing to do with justification.
The Law gets a bad rap. There is certainly a negative component to the Law. The work of the Law is very different than the work of the Gospel. If the Gospel’s work is to revive, the Law’s work is to kill. If the Gospel’s work is to cover over sin, the Law’s work is to expose sin.
The Church is a community. But the Church is not like other communities. That probably sounds arrogant. Is the Church’s community really different from all other communities? Yes. And for reasons that hardly seem evident at first glance.
As I was reading Romans 7 today, I was reminded of a pivotal scene in one of my favorite movies, As Good As it Gets. The main character, Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson, is beginning to experience the hope that things can be different for him. This feeling is new and provokes fear.
When man, conscious of his failure to keep God's command, is constantly urged by the Law to make payment of his debt and confronted with nothing but the terrible wrath of God and eternal condemnation, he cannot but sink into despair over his sins.
I’ve always been more at home in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. When I first came to believe that there was a God, I purchased and read the Koran. I had watched the movie, Malcolm X, a couple months before and thought, “If the Koran helped him straighten out his life, maybe it can help me too.”
To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who chalks sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble. When a person is a Christian he is above Law and sin. When the Law accuses him, and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christian looks to Christ.
There is just something about the idea of not being ‘under Law’ that sets off all kinds of alarms in the minds of many Christians. One might be forced to concede to the idea because the words are biblical, but those words are often compulsively followed by a multitude of caveats.
As sinful humans, we are adept at taking what God gives as gift and making it into a work. Nowhere is this made more evident than in the universally misunderstood doctrine of sanctification. Scripture teaches that faith is not something we do but something that is created within us as the promise of Christ is heard.
Martin Luther knew something about economics. Well, God’s economics anyway. It goes something like this: you can’t pay your way into heaven, and it was wrong of the Pope and his cronies to say so. The Christian life is all of grace and nothing of personal sacrifice or performance.
While I was still an over-eager seminarian the professor warned me, “Mr. Riley, this is exciting stuff. It’s exciting when you first learn about justification by faith alone in Christ alone. That’s because Law and Gospel is heady stuff! But be careful. When you climb into a pulpit and you get to preach every week you’ll learn that the people you preach to don’t much like justification talk.
The salvation of wretched sinners by an omni-holy and forever-righteous God is, by all accounts, a categorical impossibility. The logic of righteousness insists as much, not permitting even the smallest ounce of sin to blemish the remarkable majesty of the Lord’s perfection.
I spend a lot of time talking to people in coffee shops. Some share my Christian faith, some are exploring and questioning faith and others have left the church, having had a crisis of faith. I'm going to speak to an observation I've made on the 'crisis of faith' variety.
We sinners share a common problem when it comes to Jesus’ parables. We read them with an eye to our own righteousness. That is, we read them with our eyes peeled for what they might tell us to do. We read them with Law tinted lenses.
I recently began seeing a chiropractor for what turned out to be a compressed disc. He took routine x-rays to facilitate his diagnosis, and on the day he was to go over the results with me, I was placed in a conference room to wait for our consultation.
I cannot recall how many times I have nose-dived into despair after hearing preaching that always ended with the question, “Will you hear ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’ when you enter Heaven?”
Looking at our dining room table most days, you might think we were running a cartoon factory out of our house. Drawings. Everywhere. When a small child presents you with some artwork, it's heart warming.
One of my favorite shows in recent memory is the American law enforcement drama Law & Order. I’m sure you’re familiar with this 20-season-long series, but if not, it’s safe to say that it has basically set the standard for legal procedural television shows.
The more I heard the song, the more I heard the heart of the Gospel in the song. The music swept through the office like a refreshing breeze. It broke through a playlist which had become stale over time. Repetitively, the words flowed through the air, “let me love you.”
When we say we need something that means it’s indispensable. Without such a thing, our quality of life is drastically altered and likely endangered. I need food, air and water to sustain me physically, I need community, love and a healthy self-image to sustain me psychologically.
Among the things that perturb me about modern Christianity is our residual clinging to a sort of “Christian-karma.” You’ve probably read this frustration from me before, but with some recent events in my own life, I feel as though Christians still just don’t get it.