May 27, 2019
The Easter 7C Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 17:20-26 from the Lectionary Gospel; Acts 16: 16-34 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 97 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism: Q&A 123 (Lord’s Day 48)
Author: Scott Hoezee
One of the most creative preachers I know who always manages to approach texts in a very fresh way is Debbie Blue. For this text, she reminds us that biblically “glory doesn’t shine, it bleeds.” You can hear that sermon by clicking here.
What does Jesus mean by all his talk here about “glory”?
“I have given them the glory that you gave me . . .” (vs. 22)
“I want them . . . to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me . . .” (vs. 24)
Clearly this has been a key theme in John’s gospel all along. It began in his opening chapter and that well-known soaring prologue. However, a striking feature to that prologue is the fact that John never mentions “glory” until after he has given the shocking revelation that the eternal Word of God—who had been with God in the beginning and through whom all things had been made—was made flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, the glory of God’s one and only, full of grace and truth.”
John did not talk about “glory” in connection to the soaring words about the beginning of all things, about the creation, or about anything that we might regard as “heavenly” and eternal in nature. No, glory came onto the scene only after the incarnation is mentioned. It reminds you of also Philippians 2 where Paul talks about the glorification of Christ Jesus only after he depicts him as having sunk as far down into death and hell as he can go. Only then was he glorified and given the name above all names.
Another curious place early in John where glory pops up is at the wedding at Cana in John 2. We all know the story: the bridal party did not order enough wine for the (in those days lengthy) wedding reception. Although we are told the guests were probably pretty loaded already as it was, they needed more wine and so Jesus’ mother Mary corners Jesus into doing something about the situation. He does, transforming six huge water jars into the finest vintage anyone had ever tasted. A neat trick, a fine miracle. Not earth shattering perhaps. This was the first “sign” in John’s Gospel and the last such sign will be the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Now THAT was something.
And yet in John 2 after Jesus turns water into wine, the disciples are said to have beheld Jesus’ “glory” and so they put their faith in him. Really? Glory in a goblet of wine? Glory in wine created for people already tipsy? But yes, there it is: glory can be ever-so-mundane.
Here and throughout the gospel we discover a wonderfully paradoxical presentation of glory. Yes, glory can be and is everything we usually associate with the glory of God: glory can be luminous and splendid and mind-boggling and blinding and majestic in ways that unmake us and send us falling down upon our faces in humble adoration.
But glory can also come through the grace and truth of the very humble incarnate Lord Jesus. When in John 17 Jesus says he has shown the disciples his glory, it is all-but certain that he is not talking about extraordinary spectacles of light and effulgence and mind-bending special effects. The glory of Jesus emerged in the course of his ministry when he gave hope to the poor, when he forgave the sins of downtrodden and marginalized persons, when he reached out to his enemies in love, when he displayed grace to the least deserving. The glory shined earlier that very evening when Jesus stripped down to his underwear to wash dirty feet. The Transfiguration it wasn’t but . . . for those with eyes to see, it was the glory of God’s One and Only shining yet again.
In verse 24 when we hear Jesus say he wants his followers to be with him where he is so that they can see the glory the Father has given, we tend to picture golden thrones situated on lofty clouds in the heavens above. But considering that Jesus was within minutes of being arrested, tried, and crucified, is it not likely that the “where” of Jesus’ glory would very shortly be the cross itself? Is it not likely that Jesus is praying that his followers will not abandon him but will stay with him even at Golgotha to see the true measure of divine glory in reaching out to and saving a very fallen world?
If there is anything to this line of thought, then it is also a bracing reminder to us all that the Church today gains conformity to Christ and displays unity with the Father not when it garners the attention of the media and not when its programming and ministries become global in scope and not when it has to build bigger sanctuaries to accommodate the thousands who throng into popular megachurches. No, glory shines through when the Church is humble, doing quiet things to serve the poor and preach good news to the downtrodden.
The glory that the Father gave to the Son and that the Son gives to the Church is not the glory of klieg lights and media sizzle. It’s the glory of the Word of God becoming meat, being made flesh, dwelling here in the mud and muck of this world. It’s the glory of the One who came to serve and not be served. It’s the glory of the One who was, as Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, lifted up off the earth not on some high throne but on a cross of wood.
That is the glory the Father gave the Son. That is the glory we display in the Church we, like our Savior, serve quietly and humbly.
As Debbie Blue put it, glory doesn’t shine.
KOSMOS (world, cosmos) is one of John’s favorite words and it figures prominently in this prayer in John 17 as well. There are clear echoes here of John 1:10 in which nearly an identical phrasing is used in the Greek. In John 1:10 we are told that although Jesus was in the world he himself had made in the beginning, “HO KOSMO AUTON OUK EGNO” (“the world knows him not”). Now in John 17:25 Jesus addresses the Father and says “HO KOSMO SE OUK EGNO” (“the world knows you not”). Clearly the world/cosmos is a hostile place for the divine: it knows neither the Son of God who is the Word who made the world in the beginning nor the Father God who sent the Son into this world. Yet we cannot ponder this sad situation without tumbling to also the grace-filled glory of John 3:16: for God so loved THE WORLD . . . A good deal of the “glory” Jesus talks about in John 17 can be located right in the midst of this apparently paradoxical circumstance of a world ignorant of God and yet loved enough by God for him to sacrifice himself for that same world.
Here is the essence of gospel good news. We don’t have to wait for special seasons of blessing to see glory. We don’t need angels’ wings or skies split asunder. We don’t need to be transported out of the routines of our workaday lives to be encountered by glory. Nor do we need to be lifted out of our sufferings, our sorrows, our hardships to see glory. In fact, the gospel suggests that those are the very places where we can expect to see glory more often than not.
I once read a story related by a surgeon named Richard Selzer. One day Selzer had to remove a tumor from the cheek of a young woman. After the surgery, the woman was in bed, her postoperative mouth twisted in a palsied, clownish way. A tiny twig of the facial nerve had been severed in the operation, releasing a muscle that led to her mouth. Her young husband was in the room along with the surgeon. “Will my mouth always be like this?” the woman asked. “Yes,” the doctor replied, “the nerve was cut.” She nodded, fell silent, and looked broken.
But the young husband smiled gently and said, “I like it. It’s kind of cute.” And all at once, Dr. Selzer writes, I knew who this young husband was. The doctor saw Jesus in the man. He saw Jesus in the man’s gentleness and love, in his sympathy and brokenness. And then he saw Jesus afresh as the kind husband bent down to kiss her crooked mouth, carefully twisting his own lips to accommodate her lips, showing her that their kiss still worked and always would.
Glory infused that hospital room that day—the glory of God’s One and Only who came here, humbly accommodating himself to us in our brokenness by taking on the very nature of a servant. We have seen his glory. We still see his glory. It is all around us. We see it at the communion table and at the breakfast table; we see it in the water at the baptismal font and in the water from the sprinkler that catches the sun’s rays just so; we see it in the anthem sung by a grand choir and in the simple chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” that our child absent-mindedly sings to herself while doing her paint-by-numbers.
This is the glory we see. Thanks be to God.
Author: Stan Mast
Our reading for today serves as the exclamation point on Dr. Luke’s history of the Gospel’s spread to the ends of the earth. No, we haven’t gotten to that far horizon yet, but Luke has introduced all the major themes and players that will get us there. This story contains all those elements that will finally conquer the world for Christ.
Central to this story and to that conquest is the simple message of salvation. It begins with an evil-spirit-inspired slave girl and ends with a Holy-Spirit-converted jailer. The girl announces that Paul and Silas are “telling you the way of salvation.” And the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas give the answer that will change the world, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ….” The best way to preach this text is to simply tell the story highlighting the centrality of salvation.
There are two stories of salvation in Acts 16, and it feels as though Dr. Luke has picked these two stories for their very different feel and color. The story of Lydia is full of sweetness and light. She is worshiper of the God of Israel, even though she is a Greek. She is kind and generous and beloved by all. She gladly welcomes the Gospel into her heart and its preachers into her home.
The story that follows is full of the darkness of paganism, complete with slavery and spirits, exploitation and anti-Semitism, violence and imprisonment. Yet even there, even in the land of darkness, the Gospel can save. That’s an important prelude to the rest of the story of the Gospel’s spread into the Greco-Roman culture that dominated the ancient world.
The story begins with Paul and Silas heading out to the place of prayer where they had first met Lydia, the first female Gentile to lead a house church in Europe. But on the way they meet a very different kind of female, a young girl enslaved in two ways—first to her human masters and even worse to a spirit that enabled her to predict the future.
The Greek word describing this spirit has a long and dark history; it is the word python, which sounds like the English word for a large snake that squeezes life out of its victims. That is precisely what the word means–snake, or even dragon. In the mythology of the ancient world a python guarded the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi, that legendary fortune telling figure. In other words, this poor girl lived in the darkness of human and demonic slavery. Is it too much to think of the Dragon of Revelation 12? This is a girl who desperately needed to be saved.
So it is fascinating that she tells the truth about Paul and his evangelistic team. “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” We hear that Paul was troubled by her, perhaps because she followed them around day after day repeating her message, perhaps because her words about the Most High God made it sound like Paul’s God was one among many, or perhaps because Paul didn’t like the fact that the message of the Gospel was coming from the mouth of a girl in the grip of darkness. (Think of how Jesus commanded demon possessed people to be quiet when they announced who he was.)
Whatever the reason for Paul’s irritation, the result was good, and bad, depending on whom you ask. The girl was delivered from that spirit by the authority of Jesus Christ. “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” Immediately she was released from that part of the darkness that enslaved her. But she was still gripped by the greedy paws of the syndicate that had been getting rich off her “gift.” Her owners were furious because without that spirit, she couldn’t tell fortunes. They had lost their income stream and they weren’t going to stand for that.
We know what happened next with those angry men, and we’ll look at that in a moment. But we aren’t told what happened to the girl. In the previous salvation story, Lydia’s confrontation with the name of Jesus resulted in her conversion. What about this poor girl? She was saved from that spirit, but was her spirit saved? Some scholars say, “No,” and that just goes to show that these Gospel preachers still needed to broaden their net. Perhaps her poor status was too much for them to overcome; they hadn’t yet arrived at Paul’s “neither slave nor free.”
Well, maybe. There was definitely development in the church’s outreach to the world. But maybe this girl who announced that Paul and friends were “telling the way of salvation” had heard and believed that way. Maybe the Holy Spirit replaced that python spirit and opened her heart and she believed in Jesus Christ. Who knows but that she became part of Lydia’s church?
We don’t know that for sure, but we do know what happened to Paul and Silas. They became entangled in the Roman legal system, which, I think, is a first for them. The angry and suddenly poorer owners of the girl dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face Roman officials—first the “authorities” and then the “magistrates,” two levels in the local Roman system of law.
The enraged owners accused Paul and Silas, not of robbing them of their livelihood (a charge that might have cast shade on their own character), but of three serious charges. First came the anti-Semitic attack. “These men are Jews….” And not only that, they are disturbing the peace, “throwing our city into an uproar….” And worse than that, they are doing that by preaching an illicit religion, “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
This last charge threw the legal officials and listening mob into an uproar, because if there was one thing you didn’t do in the Empire, it was challenge the Pax Romana, the great peace won by Rome’s legions and enforced by Roman law.
Paul and Silas are in deep trouble now. They need to be saved, but they aren’t. Instead, they are stripped, beaten, and thrown into the bowels of the local prison where they are put in solitary confinement with their legs in shackles.
Here’s another hinge in the history of the Gospel. What will happen when Rome gets its claws into these brave men who are carrying the Good News to the ends of the earth? Well, it turns out that this revolting development will, once again, further the cause of the Gospel. Not only was the Spirit in Paul stronger than the spirit in the girl, but also the Lord whom Paul served was stronger than the Caesar whom these Romans served.
Paul and Silas knew that, so they spent the night praying and singing hymns to God with an amazed congregation of prisoners listening to them. That’s when the Lord Jesus showed everyone who was really in charge. With a sudden violent earthquake the Lord shook the foundations of the prison, blasted open the prison doors, and loosened the chains of every prisoner. But, not one ran away.
That’s what the jailer discovered when he was shaken awake, ran for the prison, and drew his sword to commit suicide when he found the prison doors open. Now the jailer is the one who needs to be saved. Sure enough, as he prepared to fall on his sword, Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here.” Why were they all there? Because God was going to use this crucial moment to advance the Gospel by saving yet another unlikely sinner, a member of the Roman legal system. (We’ve seen the salvation of a member of the Roman military in Acts 10.)
The jailer’s famous question might seem a bit abrupt. Indeed, some think he was merely asking what he needed to do to avoid being killed by the Roman authorities for his dereliction of duty. What must I do to be saved from Roman punishment?
But here’s a more likely scenario. As a citizen of Philippi, he knew about the infamous slave girl. Perhaps he had heard her message about the way of salvation. And he had surely heard about these men whose alleged crimes were so great that they deserved a place in “the hole.” Perhaps he had even overheard Paul and Silas singing and praying. So it is very likely that he was asking about a very different kind of salvation, the ultimate kind. That is surely how Paul understood him, because Paul preached to him the same Gospel he had been announcing all over the world. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved—you and your household.”
That was not the end of the story, because there is more to the Gospel than those few words and there is more to conversion than just making a momentary decision for Jesus. What follows sounds a great deal like the life of the church as we read about it in Acts 2 and 4. “Then Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord Jesus to them and all the others in his house.” More complete instruction was necessary before baptism. And before the jailer was washed with baptismal waters, he washed the wounds of the preachers. Then he took them to his home and set a meal before them. Are we to see a hint of the Eucharist here? Baptism followed by the Lord’s Supper?
In other words, the story ends as Lydia’s did—with immediate hospitality and with great joy, because not only the jailer, but also his whole family was converted. This emphasis on his household has roots in the covenantal way God has always dealt with his people; “the promise is to you and your children for the generations to come (Gen. 17:7).” God usually saves people in the context of relationships, especially family.
Furthermore, the salvation of the whole family was essential to the establishment of another church in Philippi—not just a lone individual, but a whole family was saved. “There is no salvation outside the church,” not only because salvation is proclaimed by the church, but also because salvation leads to the church. (That’s the tragedy and abnormality of today’s “spiritual but not religious” movement.) This story ends with a new house church now established in Philippi in the home of a Roman jailer. The church has begun to impact the legal system of the vast Empire, where one day Jesus would be declared Lord of all.
Many preachers have used the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. “Always preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary.” Unfortunately, Francis never said those words. Even more unfortunate is the way that “quote” seems to set verbal witnessing and life witnessing at odds.
In fact, as our story illustrates, it is virtuous behavior that sets the stage for verbal preaching. If Paul and Silas had not responded to their unjust imprisonment with prayer and hymns and a courageous refusal to lead a jailbreak after the earthquake, it is likely that the jailer would not have been as receptive as he was. On the other hand, if Paul and Silas had not answered his desperate question with clear words, he could not have been saved.
Mere good deeds cannot bring anyone to Christ; they can only witness to the goodness of those who perform those deeds. And true words alone cannot bring anyone to Christ; they will ring hollow if the preachers don’t show the truth of those words in their own lives. Paul and Silas demonstrated that Jesus saves by their response to imprisonment, and then they declared that Jesus saves in response to a desperate question.
Author: Scott Hoezee
A few years ago the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship produced a new hymnal based on the Psalms. Its title is “Psalms for All Seasons.” The title is apt because as most of us know, the Hebrew Psalter is a collection of varied prayers that matches life’s many and varied seasons. As C.S. Lewis and others have noted, for a prayer book like the Psalter to be of any use, it could not contain poems that all tracked ever and only on one theme. If we had 150 psalms and they were all psalms of praise, we would have nothing to pray during times of lament and sorrow. And, of course, vice-versa: 150 prayers of lament would provide nothing for seasons of great joy. And so forth and so on in terms of prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of an imprecatory nature, etc.
Where on the spectrum of life would something like Psalm 97 fit? Well, I guess one would have to conclude this poem reflects a pretty happy season of life. Maybe one could go so far as to say it fit a pretty optimistic period. It is, of course, a good thing that Psalm 97 gets balanced by plenty of other psalms that admit that many times it is difficult to see the ongoing triumph of God’s justice, that many times it is hard to explain why the wicked prosper so well even as the righteous seem to fall ever farther behind.
Because Psalm 97 presents what could be called a kind of “Best Case Scenario” on multiple fronts. In addition to praising God for his majesty, might, and splendor, this psalm also claims that all those divine qualities are on ready display all the time. In fact, no one could fail to see them on a regular basis. What’s more, anyone who even tries to worship anything other than the one true God of Israel comes to swift ruination and shame. The righteous meanwhile bask in the warm glow of God’s light all the time and no matter where they go. It’s as though the divine spotlight follows them around the way in a theater the spotlight stays on the lead actor in a play no matter where he goes on the stage.
It’s just kind of sunshine and roses all the time for the followers of Israel’s God and doom and misery for any who even attempt to go down other paths.
Probably there are days now and then when we feel this way about God and about our faith. But lots of the time we would have to admit that the world looks a little darker, the path of faith a bit more perilous, the fate of good people a bit more gloomy (and the fate of nasty people a bit more bright) than all that. So what do we make of Psalm 97 and others like it that seem to put blinkers on to avoid seeing what the rest of us see altogether too easily as many days as not? Is this just the Optimist’s Psalm? And how might this square with something like Psalm 39 which—if you look it up—could be seen as very nearly the mirror image of Psalm 97?
Again, there is a reason the Hebrew Psalter contains both Psalms 39 and 97. The Psalter is no haphazard collection. These psalms were carefully selected and edited precisely with the goal of generating a prayer book that offered something for everyone (and something for every season through which most people travel now and again). So in addition to fitting a particularly happy and blessed stretch in a person’s life, maybe Psalm 97 is also meant to point us to truths that—whether or not we can see them in action on any given day—in the longest possible run will be true because on some level of another they simply MUST be finally true for our faith to have anything going for it.
There may be a myriad of reasons why in this world things go the way they do. As Job’s friends proved in the Book of Job, proffering neat and tidy explanations for the way the world works just doesn’t cut it—not practically and not in the eyes of God himself. We prefer having life neatly folded and squared at the corners but it just isn’t true a lot of the time. We like Precious Moments figurines emblazoned with pithy slogans of sweet piety and counted-cross stitch wall hangings that enliven our living rooms with Bible verses that talk about or promise all manner of sunny things. But such things are too easily shipwrecked on the shoals of any given day’s news headlines or happenings right within our own families.
Of course, the temptation is to seize on life’s harsher realities and let them start to have the final word. We are tempted to use cases of childhood cancers and atrocities like the Holocaust as defeaters for any hint of optimism or hope that someone might proffer. Cynicism is always knocking on the front doors of our hearts, ready to make us curdle into despair or sneer at the idea that someday justice really will triumph after all. Next thing you know, you start rolling your eyes over people who like to sing songs with titles like “Awesome God” or who quote Bible verses about our being more than conquerors in Christ.
That won’t do. Because if it may be true that Christians are not supposed to be optimists per se, it is certainly also true that neither are we to be thoroughgoing pessimists. If we should not want to skip lightly past anyone’s genuine sorrow or suffering, neither do we want such sorrow or suffering to knock the stuffing out of the hope that believers in Jesus have every right to possess and nurture.
So perhaps we take Psalm 97 as a kind of best case scenario kind of poem but also as a sterling reminder that at the end of God’s cosmic day, we believe that the best case scenarios will obtain for every person and creature in God’s New Creation. We won’t get there quickly or easily or simply—even the very Son of God had to die a horrible death to put us on this trajectory. We don’t get to the vision sketched in Psalm 97 without noticing that planted squarely in the path that leads to all this glory and triumph is a horrid symbol of Roman capital punishment.
Yet this is our vision in the end. This is our truth. God is majestic and glorious and all who oppose this God will eventually melt away. There is a light of love and grace and justice that shines at the bright center of the universe and if some days—many days—that light seems to be eclipsed by a thousand contrary events and circumstances, even so as John reminds us in John 1, the light shines (present tense) in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it much less put the light out.
Maybe there are days when something like Psalm 97 and its sunny optimistic-like vision grates against our sensibilities. Maybe there are days when we read this and want to respond with an eye-rolling “Oh, puh-leaze!” reaction. But maybe those are exactly the same days to grab a hold of this poem with both hands and take its final vision for God’s shalom seriously. It will happen because it must happen or our hope in Christ really is empty. Those are the times to do our level best to heed the psalm’s final admonition: Rejoice in the Lord and praise his holy name.
The writer and theologian Lewis B. Smedes once wrote that when you get right down to it, every single one of us deep down longs for a day when we get noticed, when the Hallelujah Chorus gets sung for us, when a spotlight shines on one of our accomplishments and the plaudits of our peers and family and friends rush our way like some happy torrent of refreshing water. We want things to work out and deep down we want good things to come our way, to be noticed. What’s more, Smedes went on to note, people who deny that about themselves are often a little nasty (in addition to being more than a little self-deceived). It’s not that desiring a moment in the spotlight makes us vain or unduly egotistical. This is not something only the sinfully proud could ever desire for themselves. There is something normal about it, especially for people who deep down also believe in fairness and justice and a world that can see the truth about things clearly.
Psalm 97 reflects something of all this, too. It’s not that the light of goodness always shines on the righteous for now. But it should. And some day our fondest desire and belief is that it will.
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Author: Doug Bratt
How can we understand Christ’s promise to come “soon” that he makes not once but twice in just this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s seven verses? After all, few of our definitions of “soon” would include the two thousand years that have elapsed since he made first it.
In Revelation 22 John’s dazzling visions of that coming Christ finally end. The dazed apostle responds by falling flat on his face in worship in front of the angel who has shown him those visions. The angel, however, scolds him for misplacing his worship, just as much of Revelation scolds readers for our misdirected worship.
Yet this is the second time John has tried to worship the revealing angel instead of the revealed God. So why does he seem to have such a hard time getting it right? Why, in fact, do God’s adopted children find it hard to worship the living God instead of sampling from a buffet of little gods?
The book of Revelation at least suggests misplaced worship stems from a failure of both memory and awareness. People haven’t just naturally forgotten what God has done. We also fail to pay attention to what God is graciously doing in our world right now.
By the power of the Holy Spirit Revelation is a great antidote to misplaced worship. In it, after all, God shows the world what God and the evil one are up to in God’s world. Revelation, in fact, reminds God’s adopted children that God isn’t just constantly doing good things for everything God creates. God is also somehow actively bending even the bad things that happen for God’s glory and God’s people’s good.
Revelation also insists that God is persistently working to save God’s whole creation. So it reminds its readers that no person whom God’s adopted sons and daughters meet is a completely finished product. God longs to make each and every one of us more like Jesus. Yet, of course, God is doing that work in a creation that we seem determined to ruin and in people who stubbornly make themselves God’s enemies. So God’s work isn’t always clear.
Of course, at one time in history God’s creating and saving work was more obvious to those whom God gifted with faith. For about 32 years God’s creating and saving work in Jesus Christ was plain to those whom God graciously gave the eyes and hearts of faith.
Then, however, as Peterson notes, we blurred that focus. So what’s the best way to restore that focus on God’s creating and saving work in Christ? John at least suggests that it’s through worship.
In worship, after all, the Spirit corrects God’s adopted children’s vision that we’ve allowed Satan and sin to blur. In worship, after all, God reminds us that God created all things good, that we scarred created things through our sin and that God graciously responded.
So God’s people gather for weekly worship to praise God and confess that we’ve fallen far short of what God created us to be. In worship God’s children hear God speak to us about grace and obedience. In worship we basically retell God’s story. And in worship we remember that Jesus is “coming soon.”
Of course, it’s still tempting, even in worship, to lose our focus on the Lord. God’s people’s attention drifts like a sailboat on a calm afternoon. Yet properly directed worship is urgent business because it reminds us of, among other things, what Revelation 1:1 and 22:6 says, “must soon take place.”
Peterson, however, calls our English word “soon” a bland translation of the Greek’s tachy. He compares the original language’s tone to that of our shouts of “Taxi! Taxi!” We generally, after all, hail a driver to help us meet our immediate need of getting somewhere. We don’t usually make appointments with taxi drivers for later in the week.
In a similar way, nearly everything we read in the book of Revelation is immediately relevant. John, says Peterson, holds very little back for future application. Jesus Christ is, after all, both at work right now and returning very soon.
In Mark 13:26 Jesus promised that the Son of Man would come in the clouds with great power. In Mark 13:33 he begged people to “Be on guard! Be alert!” In Revelation 1:7 John seems to remember that when he says Christ “is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” He even repeats that message, first to Sardis’ Christians and second as Revelation’s vision of judgment nears its climax.
Yet neither Jesus nor John wants to scare God’s dearly beloved people with such warnings. Nor do they want to prompt us to guess wildly about Christ’s coming’s dates. No, they primarily want us to stay “awake” so that we always stay aware of who we are and what Christ is doing.
Through the book of Revelation the Holy Spirit invites God’s people to a kind of quiet attentiveness to Christ’s coming among us not just at the end of measured time, but also every day. John challenges his readers of all times and place to be as aware as we can be of God’s presence here and now. John isn’t, after all, just talking about the future; he’s also talking about the present time that God infuses with the future God has planned for us.
Yet God’s beloved children are used to thinking about time spatially, of the past, present and future as dates on a calendar. As Peterson notes, however, John uses two words that we translate as “time,” chronos and kairos. Chronos is time as we usually think of it, as duration. Kairos, by contrast, is time as opportunity. We measure chronos with our clocks, watches and calendars. You and I measure kairos as opportunities to do things like plant a garden or leap to faith.
Of course, chronos is important. Most of us need to make schedules and keep appointments to live our daily lives. Yet, says Peterson, only by seeing time as also kairos, as an opportunity, can we fully participate in Christ’s coming, both now and in the future.
After all, Revelation won’t let us limit Christ’s coming to some date in the past and future. It invites God’s beloved children to also meet him here and now, even as we anticipate fully meeting him at the end of measured time.
If time as chronos dominates our thinking, the future becomes a source of worry. It either draws our attention away from the present or leaves us complaining about everything we need right now. If, however, we focus on time as kairos, the future is a source of expectation that galvanizes our present. It leaves us eager to see and join what God is doing already here and now.
People who worry about the future, writes Peterson, sometimes seem reluctant to prepare for it by doing things like sharing the gospel, feeding the hungry and caring for creation. We’re so worried about the future that we’re too busy to get involved in the present.
So John helps us to let God’s future shape our present. In both Revelation 1:4 and 8 he refers to God as the one who “IS and WAS and IS TO COME.” When Moses asked God to identify himself, in Exodus 3 God answered in a similar way “I am who I am.” God’s Jewish people understood that God’s being includes all of the tenses of the word to “be”: present, past and future. God’s name, “I am who I am” embraces the past, present and the future.
In both Revelation 21:12 Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon.” What he seems to mean is that just as he has come in our past and continues to come to us, someday he’ll fully come to us in his return.
In response, the Spirit, the Church-Bride and all of Revelation’s listeners say, in verse 17, “Come!” In fact, God invites, in verse 17, the world’s spiritually thirsty people to come to the One who comes to us. What’s more, Jesus speaks his final word in verse 20, “Yes, I am coming soon.” John responds with the plea, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
That final prayer for Jesus to “Come” is what Peterson calls a basic Christian prayer. Yet when Christ says “yes” to that prayer by coming to us with healing or forgiveness, he sometimes surprises us at least a bit. At those times we can then hardly help but respond, “So that’s what he meant!”
Jesus’ sometimes-unexpected coming to us puts a kind of what Peterson calls an “earnest edge” on our expectations of Jesus’ coming. We don’t have to face the future with all sorts of worries about chronological time. Instead God’s adopted sons and daughters can look into it with the welcoming, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus – both now and at the end of measured time!”
My Indonesian brothers and sisters in Christ like to talk about what they call “rubber time.” It’s a reference to the different way eastern and western people sometimes think of time. While at least some westerners take pride in their punctuality, in our strict adherence to measured time, some of our eastern neighbors stress punctuality less than being fully present in and to whatever time and place they appear.
So my Indonesian friends may show up 30-45 minutes later than when they’d promised to appear. But when they do finally appear they often seem readier to engage than westerners who sometimes need time to “warm up” to and for our full presence.
It makes me wonder how we might think of Jesus’ coming “soon” as a kind of “rubber time.”