Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!

Not sure why I like Leap Day. I just do.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: The Omega of the Alpha & Omega

I’ve been sick and busy, but I should have still wrapped the Alpha & Omega portrait up because this is simply a summary post. Basically, after looking at Jesus, we need to ask ourselves, “What do I do with this portrait?”

Answer. Worship Him. Revere Him. Yes, Jesus is our friend, but don’t give Him a noogie. Remember that your knees should knock from time to time. Delight in Jesus’ infinite goodness, greatness, kindness, love, sacrifice, holiness, righteousness, power, and care. And knowing that Jesus is all of these things – infinitely (Alpha & Omega-ly), He is worthy of our trust, our hope. Ask Him to forgive your sin and give your life to His leadership if that’s something you have not yet done. He’s worthy of you trusting your life to Him.

Make sure you don’t just hope and trust Jesus at church. He’s the Alpha & Omega outside of these walls. Let Him rule in your life at work this week. While you’re on the internet. At home – you’re not the king of your castle; He is. He is Lord, Alpha & Omega.

Thanks for taking this journey through Revelation. Pray for me. I preach on March 9, but I’m feeling a little under the weather. I’ll be preaching on Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Pray that I think clearly for the preparation and communication.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega as the bridegroom.

You may remember a ways back when John mixed his metaphors of Lion and Lamb. Now we’re looking at another mixed metaphor – at least as far as the bride is concerned. But the point is clear that Jesus is the groom – the last of the images we’ll look at in terms of our Alpha & Omega portraits.

A lot of this last section in Revelation is what the new Jerusalem is going to be like. It seems to be the picture of a groom bringing a bride home to their new home, but it is more than a city; it is His people with whom He lives and makes His dwelling with. Jesus uses wedding feast imagery and the arrival of the bridegroom – among others – to tell people what He and His Kingdom are like.

So this is a rough metaphor – the bride = Jesus’ people, or a city … but so goes it. And at least the main points are intact.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." – Revelation 21:1-4

No more pain. No more tears. The old order is gone.
The heartache, loneliness. Gone.
The grip of addiction. Gone.
Fear. Gone.
The chronic pain. Gone.
Jealousy. Gone.
The constant advance and effects of aging. Gone.
Blindness. Gone.
Wheelchairs. Gone.

That’s Omega. That’s the end – and it lasts forever. What a day that will be.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega as judge

Jesus’ judgment of Satan is something we look forward to, but there’s another judgment to come that I’m not nearly as excited about. This is tough. I love the idea of Satan being thrown into a lake of burning sulfur. I’m not so fond of thinking of the resurrection of the dead and the judgment to follow. One of the ways Jesus expressed His deity in the gospels was by forgiving sins. That’s something only God can do. Now we look at the point where judgment comes for us – and our sins are either forgiven or held against us.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20.11-15
There are some people who I feel like deserve this – Hitler, rapists, murderers, and the like. I feel like others don’t.

But my feelings are irrelevant.

The fact is that all of us deserve this. Romans tells us we’re all sinners. That doesn’t mean we just make mistakes. It means we’re rebels against God because we’re not living the way He created us to live. Isaiah says our works of righteousness are as filthy rags. We have nothing to offer that would earn us a place in the Book of Life. We need to ask God to save us, to put us in that Book by repenting of our sins, trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for our sin, and submitting to the leadership of Jesus in our lives today. When we make t his choice, we are given new life.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega as the conqueror of evil

We like to paint Jesus as a pretty nice guy. And I’m sure He was – and is – in many ways. He was nice enough that the unclean of the day – prostitutes, tax collectors, and the rest – loved being with Him. Children loved Him – and vice-versa – so there had to be a tenderness, kindness to Him. But that’s not all of Jesus. He was also a warrior.

The evil Jesus most railed against in Scripture was religious hypocrisy that kept up a good front while keeping people from God – read Matthew 23 if you want to see what really makes Jesus mad. But now we’re skimming through Revelation and skipping to the end of the book to see the judgment of the forces of evil that stand behind anything and anyone opposed to God. You think He was tough on the Pharisees? Listen to this. Depending on where you stand with Jesus, it is either a place of glorious hope or it is a place of terror – to be blunt.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great." 19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Revelation 19.11-20
That’s a long ways from the manger, isn’t it? In the next chapter evil’s reign ends: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20.10). Amen to that!

Satan’s day is coming. And not a day too soon. Think of the damage he’s done.
1. He’s been wreaking havoc in heaven before he started messing with Adam & Eve.
2. He tempted Eve, leading to the Fall in the Garden.
3. He pulls the strings in a world system that is set against God.
4. He has messed with your mind and heart, telling you to doubt God and trust yourself.
5. He has sown discord in your marriage, in your family, at work.
6. He works among the powers of the world to create war and injustice.

As much trouble as he’s caused, though, Satan is just a created being. As great as he is, he’s finite. There’s an end to his trouble – and Jesus is going to bring it to an end. Satan came around after the Alpha and he isn’t going to make it to the Omega. Jesus is the sovereign, the King of King, the Lord of Lords – the Alpha & Omega – to be worshipped as the only sovereign. Satan’s toast.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega over history

We’ve been rolling through the A to Zs of Jesus so far and Jesus seems to be in charge over, the Alpha & Omega over, the spiritual realm, but there’s not much case beyond that. Revelation next gives us a clear picture that Jesus is the Alpha & Omega over history.

Remember how Jesus’ redemptive work proved Him fit to open the seals of the scroll? We’re going to see why that matters.

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, "Come!" 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. 3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Revelation 6:1-3
The pattern continues in the same chapter, verses 5, 7, 9, & 12. Now it depends on how you view Revelation what these mean. Some think they are the beginning of the end, others think they are a picture of what human history is like between the first and second coming of Jesus. I would generally think the former, but latter made a good bit of sense when John Stott explained it (The Incomparable Christ). Either way, the point for this point is the same. Things happen when Jesus says they happen – in one case at the end, in the other case over the last 2000 years. Scripture regularly asserts God is in control – and Jesus shares the attributes of God.

What does this mean? It means when the planes hit the towers on 9/11 He didn’t say, “Oops. I didn’t see that coming.” It means the tragedies in personal our lives are not the surprises to Him they are to us.

I don’t like that. I’d like a warning, a heads up.

This may frustrate us on a bunch of levels, but we trust that He is working all things toward and end that glorifies Him – even if all the details don’t make sense to us (and we don’t see how they ever could). But that’s the truth of Rom. 8.28 – all things work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. This is what the church in Smyrna (that we read earlier) had to trust in. Jesus said stay faithful to the end – and that’s likely going to mean death for some of them.

It isn’t that Jesus is calloused; He’s working on the vast tapestry of history. He cares deeply. In the next chapter of Revelation you’ll see that that those who have suffered will be led by the Lamb to springs of living water and have every tear wiped from their eyes … but make no mistake; they’ve suffered. But it is somehow part of Jesus’ plan.

I wish I had easy answers on this one. If I did I’d have a best-selling books and you’d have to pay to read my musingsJ

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega in His sacrifice

Back to Jesus as the Alpha & Omega. The next picture that makes up this portrait in Revelation is Jesus as Sacrifice. The scene switches now in Revelation. John gets a glimpse of the throne room and there’s this angel asking who is worthy to open the seals of this scroll (we’ll get to that in a minute). Unfortunately, nobody can do it so John starts to weep, but he is comforted and told the Lion of Judah can do it. Impressive. We’re expecting Aslan to step onto the screen. But John, as we’ll see later, has no problem mixing metaphors. The Lion isn’t a Lion, but a Lamb. And not just any Lamb, but a slain Lamb.

Now you may be thinking, “Justin, you’re trying to prove the greatness, the Alpha & Omega-ness of God – maybe you should’ve skipped this one.” No way. This is probably one of my favorite passages in Scripture, and certainly in Revelation. His greatness, His Alpha & Omega-ness is revealed in His sacrifice as the Lamb. In fact, He is deemed worthy to open the seals because He is the Lamb.

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." - Revelation 5:9-10
This apparent time of weakness, the cross, was seen as a shameful event for a person and family, but God delights in working through weakness. It is His specialty. His greatness is shown in His humility in accomplishing His great mission to reconcile mankind with God through the sacrifice of His death.

So … while the Alpha & Omega-ness of God speaks of sovereignty and greatness, I can’t help but move my thoughts to the value of Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin. John doesn’t say He died to purchase the just the Jews for God. Not just the Samaritans. Not just the Romans. Not just the known world. He died for every tribe and tongue and people and nation! That’s why we do missions. God is doing a great work in reaching every tribe, tongue, people, and nation and it is our privilege to be part of it. We’re missing out if we don’t.

Get this. The gift of His life is so valuable (He is so great!) that it pays our infinite debt of violating the holiness of an infinitely holy God … and the offer is for anyone.

What do we do with that? Receive it. How? Understand that you’re a sinner, that you are living for yourself, by your own terms instead of living for God, which is what you were created for. Being a rebel requires punishment. Fortunately, Jesus took our punishment on the cross. We need to admit that we’re sinners and then believe that He died in our place and rose again from the grave, proving He was greater than death. And then we need to commit to following Jesus with our lives, being His disciples. That’s what it means to receive this gift.

What else can we do? Worship Him in His greatness. Remember. That’s why we do communion regularly.

This is such a great gift that Jesus has given us, a great way to show He is the Alpha & Omega. What do you do to remember His great sacrifice on our behalf?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why are you reading that!?

If you look on the margin you’ll notice I’m reading some odd stuff. I try to read stuff that deepens my knowledge of NT backgrounds each year. Sometimes it is ancient literature like the Odyssey or Illiad. Other times it is NT backgrounds. Noncanonical… by Craig Evans is a survey of ancient literature that has some connection to understanding the Bible – some more than others. I don’t know how helpful it is, but it is getting me more exposed to all that literature in the footnotes of the commentary. I even read some of the actual literature from each chapter. Wading through a little Philo right now. Talk about a different way of looking at things!

I also just finished House Made of Dawn. Why? No idea. I have a book called The Book of Great Books to help me choose my reading wisely, but this guy has lost a little credibility with me on this one. As far as I can tell it is a tragic tale of a Native American who has come back from war and just can’t seem to find his way, either on the reservation or in the big city. I’m not much of a literary critic, though, so take this with a grain of salt – it did win a Pulitzer, though. It seems a little like the Vonnegut I read in high school, kind of stream of consciousness at times, but not as weird as Vonnegut. Still weird, though. Glad it was a shorter novel.

The Problem with Evangelical Theology is a challenging book that I’ll probably do several posts on down the line to help clarify my understanding of what Witherington is saying. But it is basically challenging the exegetical foundations of some popular evangelical systems. Pretty interesting, but since I hold a hybrid of some of these systems, it is challenging my thinking by giving me different paradigms. It will be helpful to explain them so I understand them a little better – the main reason I blog to begin with.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega in leading His church

After the intense introduction of Revelation 1, Jesus speaks a word to seven churches in Asia Minor, Western Turkey in today’s world in Revelation 2-3. (You can read it on your own. There are seven weeks. It makes a great week of personal devotions.) But Jesus speaks to each church in a way that indicates he knows each of them intimately, He gives them a message, and then makes an appeal for them to listen. Jesus knows each church individually, but the letters are to all churches (notice “this is what the Spirit says to the churches” at the end of each passage); ours, too. Here’s an example.

"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty-- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. Revelation 2:8-11 (Ruins of Smyrna pictured above.)
Today, and 2000 years ago, Jesus calls us to love, faithfulness in suffering, truth, holiness, sincerity (a lack of hypocrisy), mission, and wholeheartedness toward God. (Again, check out John Stott – this time it’s What Christ Thinks of the Church).

As we look at the greatness and eternality of Jesus, we need to remember something, the most important thing: this is His church. Jesus is the head of the church and He will lead it where He feels it needs to go. You may have a great elder board or a fantastic senior pastor and other leadership teams, which is the privilege I have at our church here in Cypress. But as good as it may get on a leadership level, this is not the leaders’ church. It isn’t the elders’ church, the trustees’ church, the pastors’ church.

We have a congregational government here. We vote on elders who lead, but it isn’t even the congregation's church – how undemocratic is that? This is Jesus’ church. He is the Head, the Lead Pastor. He is the Alpha & Omega of His church. He’s the chief. He’s the Lord. He’s the leader. He’s the head, but we are His partners in ministry, His tools, His body. Our role matters, but we belong to Him.

So what do we do with Jesus as the Head? Pray for the spiritual leadership of your church faithfully and regularly that they would listen well and clearly to the voice of Jesus and then lead with conviction – popular or not. Pray that each of us as individual would embrace our role as being part of the body where God wants us to – how He’s gifted us and where our passions fit what God is doing in the church and community.

Jesus is the Alpha & Omega, sovereign over His church and we are to submit to Him. Why do you think that is so difficult for many of us to do?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ahhh … Love is in the Air

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training today! (

Oh yeah. And one of the most cursed holidays ... Valentine's. Manufactured pressure from every angle, except from my wife who's smokin' hot all year long.

And congratulations to Intern par excellence Josh Uht on his engagement. Here's his site (with no mention of the bride-to-be): . Get with it, Uht.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega Basics

We last left John totally freaked out and on his face before Jesus. I’m not going to blame him. Now let’s see how Jesus responds.

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 behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Revelation 1.17b-18
Don’t fear!? Are you kidding me? He is told to not fear because Jesus is the First and the Last, if we’re going alphabetically, we’re looking at A to Z – or Alpha & Omega in Greek. There’s a progression of this name that bookends this challenging and exciting book that shows us the Trinitarian reality that Jesus and the Father are different persons, but both fully, eternally God.
o Rev. 1.8 – The Father is Alpha & Omega
o Rev. 1.17 – Jesus is the First & Last (what we just read)
o Rev. 21.6 – The Father is the Alpha & Omega, Beginning & the end
o Rev. 22.13 – Jesus is the Alpha & Omega, First & Last, Beginning & End

This is the key question today: “What does it mean to be the Alpha & Omega?”

  1. He’s eternal. My girls love baby Jesus, but the Second of the Person of the Trinity, the Son, is eternal, not just 2000 years old – that’s just when He took on flesh. This Jesus participated in creation (Col. 1; Jn. 1). That’s the Alpha, or A, since there’s nothing prior. He was there at the beginning. He created the beginning.

  2. He's sovereign. We aren’t just looking at A and Z here. The point of this image is that He is A to Z, not just A and Z. He’s not a watchmaker God who winds things up and meets us when it’s all over. Col. 1 tells us Jesus holds the world together. He’s in control of this world and intimately involved – even if it may not seem like it sometimes.

  3. He’s the source and point of history. He is the beginning of history, but He’s also the point. It culminates in Him and the glorification of the Son for eternity as He dwells with His people eternally.

This is why Jesus, as intimidating as He might have been to John, could make sense when He said, “Don’t fear.” Because John is in exile and persecution has come to some parts of the church and the heat upon the church is just starting. While Jesus should in some ways make our knees knock, we need not fear because He is for us.

My hope with this series of posts is that we would cultivate a greater reverence, a sense of awe at the person of Jesus – like John did. We’re going to do it with a little survey of Revelation. If you’ve read Revelation, you k now it’s pretty crazy. I haven’t had the guts to teach it. But today, just for you … both readers of my blog … I still don’t have the guts for it.

We are going to step back today and look at Revelation in light of what it tells us about Jesus. We may want to pore over the text to find out who the ten horns of the beast should be identified as or wonder about 666 or the mark, but if we do that we can easily miss the really important focus on Jesus who stands as sovereign in the midst of apparent chaos.

Revelation was written to suffering churches that, more than past stories or distant prophecies of the future, needed a picture of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Same for us.

Revelation has plenty of portraits within it (check out John Stott's The Incomparable Christ), but we’re just going to look at how Jesus in Revelation contributes to the picture of the exalted Alpha & Omega, the A to Z.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Alpha & Omega Introduction

The last post highlighted a variety of views on Jesus that would elicit a variety of responses. While some might seem a bit familiar to many of us, the truth is, there’s some warrant for our chumminess with Jesus in Scripture. He was truly man and surely built strong friendships with His disciples. In John’s gospel Jesus calls the disciples His friends, and us too. So there’s something to this familiarity that’s good and true.

But there’s a tension here – more tension than many of us recognize or practice, particularly when we talk about the culture at large. Jesus is our friend, but He’s fully God and fully man. There’s room for familiarity, but there needs to be some awe, too. John the Apostle was called the beloved disciple. If anyone was close to Jesus, it was John. He’s the one sitting next to Jesus in the Last Supper painting – unless, like the DaVinci Code, you think it’s Mary (Not sure if the confusion is more embarrassing for John or Mary). John knew Jesus well. He was Jesus’ friend. For our time in the Scripture today we’re going to Revelation – the end of your Bibles. Now John was in exile on this island called Patmos for His faithfulness to Jesus. And now He’s going to receive a vision.

On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea." 12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Revelation 1.10-16
Revelation uses a lot of imagery-laden language, but we’re looking at the Messianic “son of man” from Daniel, wearing the robe of a judge or a priest with blazing eyes that pierce to the core of our person and bronze feet show the glory and solid power of Jesus. His voice sounds like the waves crashing on the beach at Patmos, and He’s got a sword coming from His mouth! And then His radiant face reflects His glory! What a sight!

Now what does John do with His friend, Jesus? Give Him a noogie? Slap on the back? No. He falls on His face with fear. (When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” – Revelation 1.17).
One of Jesus’ dearest friends is terrified of Him.

Jesus is our friend, but make no mistake. We need to keep room for awe in our friendship with Jesus. Some of you recognize the subtitle as the words of Lucy, the little girl, as she is first told about Aslan, the Christ-figure lion in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. She asks if Aslan is safe. She’s rebuked; He’s a lion. Not safe, but good. We love safe in our world, though, don’t we? We’re all too eager to make Jesus look a lot like us, perhaps because we like to make Him safe (from our view), rather than letting Him challenge us with who He says and having to deal with it.

We may not like confronting this terrifying self-portrait of Jesus with a sword coming out of His mouth, but we won’t worship Him rightly if we don’t look at all of who Jesus is. We don’t know Him well if our knees don’t knock a little from time to time – even if our friend.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Portraits of Jesus: Introduction

Mark Driscoll has a great introduction in his series, Vintage Jesus, on cultural perceptions of Jesus. I used a lot of this material for the intro to our series down here in Cypress. Check it out.

I imagine the responses to Driscoll’s cultural survey are varied. Some are horrified at the irreverence. Some find it thought-provoking. Others thought nothing of it. Some liked it. One of the common themes we see is an informality with Jesus … My Homeboy. The world sees Jesus in a positive light, so long as He’s their buddy, one of the guys.

Some are thinking, “Right on. That’s right!” Others are troubled when there’s a little too much familiarity with Jesus. Where do you draw the line? We’ll begin to explore this issue in the next post before we look at a couple of portraits of Jesus from our sermon series here at Cypress.