November 16, 2015
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments and Observations:
He doesn’t look like a king. More like a car accident victim. Or someone who went one too many rounds with Rocky Balboa in the boxing ring.
Whether you call this last Sunday before Advent “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday,” there is a kind of delicious irony to be savored by reading this snippet of John 18. After all, we celebrate this Sunday precisely because of our Christian belief that Jesus is the King of kings. He is the fulfillment of the covenant made with David to forever have one of his heirs sitting on the cosmic throne (cf. the Old Testament lection for this Sunday and David’s last words from 2 Samuel 23). When Handel’s oratorio Messiah is performed and played umpteen times across the upcoming holiday season, those who belt out the words “King of kings and Lord of lords” in that oratorio’s famed “Hallelujah Chorus” will be stating the quintessence of the gospel: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Jesus is King.
But in John 18 we encounter that King in a most compromised and humble station. Hands bound behind him, his lip split and his cheek puffy from where one of the high priest’s officials had whacked him (cf. John 18:22), Jesus looks nothing like a king. Meanwhile he is being interrogated by a man who did possess at least some of the outer trappings of worldly power and might. Pilate was no doubt arrayed in his governor’s attire with a retinue of other well-dressed associates at his beck and call and with armed soldiers standing by also at his command.
Pilate looks the role of a king-like figure. And as such, he’s vaguely bored with this little sideshow that the Jews were foisting upon him. Pilate’s schedule was probably chockfull of appointments and meetings and P.R. appearances as it was. The last thing he had time for was this pathetic little man who was alleged to be a royal pretender, a usurper of Roman authority, a would-be “King of the Jews.” (By the way: if as you read this you hear echoes of Frederick Buechner’s indelible presentation of Pilate from his book Telling the Truth, you are no doubt correct: I read that years ago but have never forgotten it!).
For some reason this man from Nazareth (who looked about as threatening as Murray the Grocer) had his compatriots all stirred up. They did see him as a threat but couldn’t quite bring themselves to get rid of him on their own and so were looking for a little outside (Roman) help to make it all official.
It was the last thing Pilate needed that day. So there Pilate was sitting behind his marble desk, idly drumming his fingers on his ink blotter. He barely even looked up at Jesus as he distractedly asked, “So, are you the king of the Jews or what?” He stifled a yawn while awaiting the man’s response.
The man’s reply made Pilate look up after all: “Is that your own idea or did someone else tell you that about me?” Since this Jesus guy was in no position to be cheeky, the answer took Pilate aback. It also made him about burst out laughing. Of course someone else had told this to Pilate because no sane person looking at this Jesus would tumble to the conclusion he was a kingly figure! So Pilate tells Jesus that he knows full well this charge came from others and so then asks, “So just what did you do that got your peers all shook up about you?”
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says. Were it a court of law today, the lawyers for the other side would surely arise and say, “Objection! Move to strike—answer is non-responsive!” And they’d be right: Jesus’ reply was a non-sequitur. And yet what it indicated was that Jesus was no threat to the powers that be in this world. If he were, a pitched battle would already have been fought to prevent Jesus’ arrest. But he did not resist arrest and was apparently not going to resist anything at all. The kingdoms of this world really had no need to mess with Jesus, and Pilate senses this pretty keenly. This man may or may not be a nut case but he clearly was not gunning for Pilate or Herod or the Caesar and so . . .
“People who know the truth listen to me,” Jesus says in the end. And though the Lectionary grinds us to a halt at verse 37, even moderately literate biblical readers know (and so cannot help but hearing) what comes next as Pilate says “What is truth?”
Was Pilate being cynical? A relativist? A postmodern philosopher 2,000 years ahead of his time? Was he being flippant or ironic? It’s hard to say. As some have pointed out, Jesus did not answer Pilate’s “What is truth?” question, maybe in part because Jesus was the truth. The Truth was standing right in front of Pilate and so what more could The Truth say?
But maybe we can hear in Pilate’s question the desperate pleading that all people make eventually—or at least a great many people arrive at a point in their lives when they just wonder “What’s it all about anyway? What is the truth? What is the secret of life?” Our human attempts to answer those questions typically lead us in the direction of this world’s Pontius Pilates: the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, the well-dressed and upwardly mobile types to whose rising stars we gladly hitch our aspiring wagons.
But the “truth” of John 18 tells us that’s all backwards. The truth of that scene in Pilate’s office is that the beat-up, dirty, handcuffed man who spoke softly and confusingly really was the King of kings. The upside-down nature of the kingdom—and of the gospel—is on lyric display in this “Christ the King” / “Reign of Christ” passage. “What is truth?” Well, it’s not what you think it is. The secret of life, the way to life everlasting, and the true path to shalom turns away from the Pilates of the world and in the direction of the humble man from Nazareth who was even then preparing to sacrifice himself for all.
As Jesus goes on to say in verse 37, he is a king. But altogether too many people then and now would say “I don’t want to be a citizen in any kingdom of which some loser like that is the king!” In a week we begin Advent once again and for a few weeks, all the world is OK with the idea of God’s Son coming to the world in a form of a baby. Babies are so cute. But what we tend to forget is that baby grew up to be a man who impressed very few people who judged him by his outward appearances alone.
And it all comes to a head here in John 18 when Pilate rolls his eyes over this disaster of a human being standing in front of him and responds with the incredulous question: “Are you the king of the Jews??!!”
Yes, he is. Blessed are those who see the truth and enter, by grace alone, the kingdom of light. Blessed are those who can say “Jesus is King” without snickering, without irony or eye-rolling but with the sincere conviction that they are in touch with The Truth.
As Frederick Dale Bruner points out in his commentary on John (Eerdmans, 2012), all four of the gospels have Pilate asking Jesus the exact same question at the outset of their encounter: “Are you the king of the Jews?” In the Greek the word “you” or su in Greek comes first, making it an emphatic. One could very nearly translate it, “You? Are you the king of the Jews?” It was as if Pilate were saying, “You, of all people? You don’t look like a king. You don’t look like much of anything at all. So YOU of all people are standing before me? You?” It is an instance where a 2-letter Greek pronoun packs a very great deal of theological punch!
In one of his fine sermons, Tom Long tells a story (not sure of his source) that illustrates one of the central dynamics in John 18. The story claims that Mother Teresa was once in the United States to raise funds for her work among the lepers in Calcutta. One morning she was to meet with two high-powered Wall Street executives who had decided ahead of time that they were not going to give her any money. As the meeting began, the diminutive little saint from Calcutta shuffled into the room and took a seat at a shiny mahogany table across from the two men in Armani suits. “We appreciate your work,” the exec said, “but at this time cannot commit any funds.” Mother Teresa nodded quietly and said, “Let us pray” and then proceeded to ask God to open their hearts. After she intoned a quiet “Amen,” the man again said, “Look, I’m sorry but at this time, we are unable to make any commitments.” “Let us pray” Mother Teresa said, at which point both men took out their checkbooks and wrote fairly fat checks!
Jesus before Pilate: it was another one of those David and Goliath scenarios but those who can see the Truth Jesus spoke of have a funny way of seeing who is really the tall one and who is really the little guy after all.
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments and Observations:
The so-called “last words of David” are curiously placed. For one thing, there is quite a bit more action involving David in the balance of even 2 Samuel. But there will be more words and more narrative to come in also the opening portion of 1 Kings. It’s as though the author and editor of this part of the Bible carved David’s epitaph into granite while there was still a bit more of the story to unfold. But that bit of misplaced text need not detain us.
The text is striking enough on its own! If David really did speak these words, you can’t help but notice that they are a tad on the self-referential, self-aggrandizing side of the spectrum. In essence David says, “God spoke through me and said, ‘David, you’ve done a really good job!’ And I agree. My house is in order. God is on my side forever. Everything I want, I will get. And to those rotten folks who have never liked me and who are God’s enemies: to you I say: So long! You are destined for destruction!”
I like Psalm 23 better.
In the Revised Common Lectionary, this text is paired with that snippet from John 18 that shows Jesus before Pilate discussing how or whether Jesus is really a king. There Jesus makes it clear that yes, he is a king, but not the kind of king someone like Pilate would ever need to worry about. Jesus is not here to bring politics as usual, to defend himself with violence, or do anything else that would smack of this world’s way of doing things when it comes to kingdoms and power. So if Jesus is David’s ultimate heir (as Christians believe he is), then he is clearly going to be a king of a different nature than even David had been.
But there is one very lyric portion of these seven verses in 2 Samuel 23 that do tie in with both David’s observations and the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. “When one rules over people with righteousness . . . he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
Now that’s poetic! And somehow it evokes in our hearts precisely what we so often pine for in this world but so seldom get. So much of this world—and so much of the kingdoms of this world and the people who run them—are like a long dark night or an overcast day filled with storms and dismal showers. So much of the time we can do little more than hunker down and hope the long night will pass, hope the storms will pass over, hope that we will survive somehow in a world where too often it seems that the little people, the marginalized and the poor and the powerless are overlooked if not actively shunted aside.
But then perhaps King Jesus finds us and scoops us by grace into his divine embrace. He brings us into his kingdom and suddenly it’s as though the sun has come up over the eastern horizon, signaling that the long and dark night has fled away at last. It’s as though the rains that seemed so threatening have blown away and what is left is a world cleansed, restored, and newly verdant.
We come to ourselves, we blink our eyes against the brightness of the dawn, and we’re like Adam and Eve coming alive to a world of splendors and wonders that go beyond anything they could ever imagine. We’re like children let loose Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where everything is edible and delicious. We’re long Dorothy landing in Oz and opening her front door to move from a sepia-toned world into a Technicolor world so vivid as to take one’s breath away. We are like the children and the animals in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” taken to the New Narnia where every blade of grass seemed to mean more than it ever had in the old world that had passed away.
We look around us and realize that things can be different than they’ve always been. There can be a King who cares for all and his Kingdom really can come in surprising ways that are not dependent on the old ways of doing business.
Maybe David was a bit self-aggrandizing in this final “oracle” of his. And maybe someone else wrote it for him. But one thing we know for sure: the ultimate King of whom he spoke really would one day be like the rising sun on a cloudless dawn and the brightness that comes after a hard rain, revealing a creation where all things are new.
In his deeply moving book Open Secrets, Richard Lischer tells of his first three years as a pastor in a small rural town in southern Illinois, near the Missouri border. Fresh out of school, he had been in his new congregation only a week when the phone rang at 3am. It was Ed Franco saying his wife, Doral, was at St. Joe’s hospital with a ruptured gall bladder. Surgery was imminent and things were shaky. “We need you here, if you can,” he said. So Pastor Lischer jumped into the car and took off. He found them in an alcove just off a main corridor of the hospital, flanked by a dingy curtain and a red fire extinguisher on the wall. Ed was nervously patting his wife’s sweat-pasted arm. The Francos were a childless, middle-aged couple who never missed church but whom Pastor Lischer had not yet gotten to know.
As he approached the gurney on which Doral was lying, Ed and Doral looked expectantly at him. It was then Lischer realized he’d forgotten his prayer book, his Bible, and anything else that might help him figure out what he was supposed to say in this situation. Doral was, he says, the most frightened person he’d ever seen, and she was looking right at her pastor! It was very quiet in the alcove, until Pastor Lischer croaked out the only thing he could think of: a scrap of a traditional litany. “The Lord be with you,” he said. “And also with you,” Ed and Doral replied in unison, as though they had been waiting for just this opening. “Lift up your hearts,” Lischer intoned. “We lift them to the Lord,” the Francos shot back. And suddenly, Lischer writes, the Lord himself was in that alcove. He was the Lord of the alcove in that sacred moment and suddenly much that had been disheveled and fevered and sweaty was recomposed. They said a brief prayer together and Doral was soon wheeled away into the O.R., calmer and somehow now ready for surgery.
When you are citizens of God’s kingdom, things like that happen now and again no matter where you go in the world–even dimly lit hospital alcoves. As members of the kingdom, we know a Lord and so have a power and a joy and a comfort the world will never know on its own.
Psalm 132:1-12 (13-18)
Author: Doug Bratt
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
This psalm may seem about as relevant to 21st century worshipers as a repair manual for a Model T or instructions for preserving papyrus. It, after all, focuses on David, who has been dead for a long time, and Zion, which no longer has the kind of meaning it did for the psalmist. In fact, no human ruler or office shares David’s unique relationship with the Lord. What’s more, there is no geographic location that mimics Zion’s.
As a result, candidly, Psalm 132 may not be a particularly great “stand-alone” psalm on which to preach or teach. Yet it’s a psalm to which preachers and teachers do well to pay attention. After all, it’s not just that it’s part of the church’s Psalter. Modern worshipers may also need help appropriating it for themselves.
In Psalm 132 the poet begs God to be gracious to David’s unnamed descendant who is king. God had promised David that one of his descendants would always sit on Israel’s throne. So this psalm is the poet’s plea for God to keep that promise. That, in itself, makes this psalm a relevant one even in the 21st century. We, after all, rely no less on God’s faithfulness to God’s promises than David and his descendants did.
However, the poet’s reminder that God’s covenant with David was a conditional one makes this not only a plea for God’s help, but also a kind of reminder to David’s descendants to remain as faithful to the Lord as their ancestor David was. So this psalm also had a didactic function. It served to remind Israel’s kings to keep God’s covenant and obey God’s statutes.
Yet as verses 17-18 also point out, God’s covenant with David rests finally not on Jesse’s son’s descendants’ faithfulness, but on God’s faithfulness. So this psalm also offers those who preach and teach it an opportunity to reflect with hearers on the nature of God’s covenant with us. We confess, after all, that while we are not naturally faithful, God is persistently faithful. Thankfully, then, God’s covenant with us rests not on our faithfulness, but God’s.
Psalm 132 speaks a great deal of “remembrance.” It begins with the poet’s plea to God to remember David and his tribulations. Though God finally told him “no,” that king had relentlessly sought to build a “house” for the Lord. However, the poet also fills this psalm with her own remembrances. She recalls, after all, a time (whose exact date and circumstance is somewhat mysterious) when Israel vowed to worship in Zion and begged God to come to that place (6-9).
In the context of that remembrance the poet recalls a plea for God to clothe God’s priests in “righteousness.” The priests who were the poet’s contemporaries wore familiar and distinctive clothing. Here, however, the poet recalls a plea for God to “dress” those religious leaders in godliness and holiness. It’s a prayer that’s just as relevant today as it was in the psalmist’s day. God’s children, including religious leaders, still long for God to clothe us in Christ Jesus, in the “garments” of things like love, kindness, forgiveness and mercy.
Verses 13-18, which the Revised Common Lectionary only adds in parentheses as an option for further reading, contain a further remembrance. They recall God’s choice of Zion as God’s dwelling place. While David was anxious to make Jerusalem/Zion God’s “home” on earth, God retained the freedom to make God’s own choice of an earthly home. God’s choice of such a home depended, after all, not on David or any other human’s determination, but on God’s faithfulness.
Even here, however, we have reminders of God’ faithfulness. After all, while God refused David’s offer to build the Lord an earthly home, God promised Jesse’s son that one of his sons would, in fact, build that home. Solomon does, in fact, complete and dedicate the temple his father had longed to build for the Lord. Yet while God lavishly gifted Solomon, Solomon also proved to be unfaithful, unable to keep God’s covenant and statutes.
So Israel’s prophets always looked beyond Israel’s flawed human kings to a greater King. Christians believe that God finally fulfilled that longing by sending David’s “son,” his descendant Jesus Christ. God raised him from the dead and to God’s right hand from which Christ now reigns over all the kings of the earth.
So how might those who preach and teach Psalm 132 use it as the Lectionary suggests on Christ the King Sunday? Perhaps as an invitation to worshipers to consider the nature of authority today. After all, even Christians remain tempted to invest almost messianic hopes in our leaders. Whether politically conservative or progressive, God’s children always seem tempted to look to human rulers for the kind of reign and kingdom that only God can accomplish in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps Psalm 132 might also serve as a good invitation to reconsider Jesus’ teaching us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That petition is, after all, God’s adoptive children’s plea for God to rule over us through David’s son Jesus Christ in such a way that our lives increasingly reflect our submission to God’s will. We remember that part of our own submission to that rule involves responding to God’s grace with an obedient faith that includes keeping God’s “covenant” and “statutes” (12).
However, Psalm 132 also invites worshipers to reflect on God’s new “dwelling place,” the new Zion. After all, God no longer identifies God’s presence with one exclusive geographical location or building. God lives in and with not just the Church of Jesus Christ, but also God’s children, now and always, by the Holy Spirit. Now it’s even fair to say that the new “Zion” is, in a sense, those in whom God graciously lives by the Holy Spirit.
Those who preach and teach Psalm 132 might open an exploration of it by asking what holiday North Americans recently celebrated. At least some will recognize Americans just celebrated what they now call Veteran’s Day. American pastors and teachers may then want to ask what that holiday used to be called. Answering that probably won’t be so difficult for Canadians (as well as other citizens of the British Commonwealth) who already call November 11 “Remembrance Day.”
Yet it might be worth asking just what we remember on Veterans/Remembrance Day. A few people may not be able to recall that we remember the November 11, 1918 armistice that ended World War I. That forgetfulness might even serve as a way of reminding all of us how difficult it sometimes is for people to “remember” (cf. Psalm 132:1).
Author: Stan Mast
Comments and Observations
We have spent an entire year following the ministry of Christ and learning what it means to be followers of that Christ. Now, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, as we celebrate the Reign of Christ, our reading from Revelation 1 brings us face to face with Christ the King. Here the unseen Christ whose voice we seldom hear comes out of hiding and speaks directly to us. If we can resist the temptation to avoid this text because of the bizarre imagery and coded language that make Revelation a closed letter for many Christians, we will receive the two gifts that are necessary for survival in a violently secular world, namely, grace and peace.
These verses are the key that unlocks the mysterious book of Revelation. I know, that sounds like an overstatement; every “expert” thinks he or she knows the secret of this book. But I’m not talking about any secret. I’m talking about the simple facts presented in these opening words: “John, to the seven churches of Asia.” These words remind us that this book is not first of all some theological tome designed for 21st century Christians in America. This is a pastoral letter from a man so well known that he didn’t even have to identify which John he was. And it was addressed to 7 little churches in 1st century Asia (Minor). Whatever we make of what follows in the body of the letter, we must always begin with these simple facts and ask what message Pastor John was sending to those primitive Christians.
After an opening prologue (1:1-3), John’s letter begins with a benediction from God (1:4-5a), a doxology to Christ (1:5b-6), a prophecy about Christ (1:7), and the signature of the Divine Author (1:8).
The heart of John’s message for those primitive Christians (and, by extension, for us) is found in the benediction/greeting from the Triune God. “Grace and peace to you….” Whatever we do with the numbers and the pictures and the rest of what follows, we must remember that the entire letter is intended to bring those two gifts to these suffering Christians. That they were suffering is clear from the verse right after our reading: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus….”
When you are struggling to survive in difficult circumstances, what are the two things you need the most? Well, you need grace, God’s unmerited, unearned, undeserved love extended to sinners in Christ. If you know that God loves you with an unconditional love, that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, you can be more than a conqueror (Romans 8). But you also need peace, the assurance that the God who loves you can and will make all things right (the original sense of the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom). If you know that God will not let you go and that God will make it right, you can survive anything. That’s what John wants his readers to know. In spite of all things you can see and hear in your world, grace and peace are yours.
But it’s hard to believe that when you are under attack, so John reminds us where this grace and peace comes from—not from the world, but from the Triune God. In fact, this opening benediction is so Trinitarian that this could be the text for Trinity Sunday later in the liturgical year. John wants them to know that nothing in this world can deprive them of grace and peace, so he roots those gifts in the complexity and majesty of the Triune God. Note the exalted language he uses for God. By referring to God as “him who is (a direct allusion to “I Am Who I Am”) and who was (before anything else was, from all eternity) and who is to come (into the far reaches of any future you can imagine, to all eternity),” John emphasizes the utter transcendence of God. What happens in time cannot change God; thus, grace and peace are assured.
In the words that follow, John emphasizes the immanence of God. In Jesus Christ, God was with us as “the faithful witness,” telling us the whole truth about God and his will for us, as “the firstborn from the dead,” proving that even death cannot rob us of grace and peace, and as “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” assuring us that God in the flesh is sovereign over all human sovereigns, even Caesar.
What’s more, the God who gives grace and peace is present with us in the Holy Spirit, whom John typically refers to as “the seven spirits who are before the throne….” I say “typically,” because throughout Revelation the number 7 figures prominently. Whatever else it might mean, it is clearly the number of completion. So our grace and peace come from the fullness of the Spirit, or from the Spirit working in all his ways, or from the Spirit at work all over the world (on all 7 continents?). When you stand before the throne of Caesar or get caught up in a real “Game of Thrones” where the stakes are life and death, remember that your grace and peace are a gift from the sevenfold Spirit who is “before the throne” at the center of the universe (even as that Spirit is in you).
John’s bracing benediction is immediately followed by a dramatic doxology to Christ the King. In the process of praising Jesus, John uses phrases designed to build our faith and hope. He “loves us,” present tense, continuative, all the time. He has freed us from our sins by his blood; this is a done deal, in the past. Thus, it is an unshakeable reality of life. And this loving King has made us to be a kingdom and priests. We may feel like unimportant peons under the thumb of the powers that be, but we are, in fact, royalty.
Further, we occupy not just a position of privilege in the world because we are a kingdom; we also occupy a position of great responsibility, because we are priests in the world. We are here to serve the God and Father of Jesus by representing a sinful humanity before a holy God. Jesus is the great High Priest, as we saw again and again in our recent study of Hebrews. But Jesus has made us his earthly representatives, entrusted with the task of making disciples for Jesus in all nations. In his love Christ the King has changed everything for us. “To him be glory forever and ever.”
Lest those 7 little churches miss his message, John follows his benediction from the Triune God and his doxology to Christ the King with a prophecy about that King. “Look, he is coming with the clouds….” That little word “look” (idou in Greek, meaning, “look, see, behold”) is central to Revelation. This letter is all about seeing what we usually cannot see, namely, Christ the King. As you read through this mysterious letter, note how many times, John says, “And I saw.” What we have here is not so much a sequence of events as a series of visions, not only a prediction about coming things, but also a pulling aside of the curtain so that we can see what already is. Rev. 1:19 summarizes the entire book. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
Right now, we cannot see Christ the King, but he is there, on the throne at the center of universe, ruling all things according to the plan of God. So grace and peace are ours. And he will come again, as he left, “with the clouds.” Though only a few saw him go and no one sees him now, when he comes, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him….” Even those who disbelieved that Christ is King so fiercely that they nailed him and speared him, even hardened unbelievers will see him then. But grace and peace will be yours then, too.
Will there be grace and peace for everyone? That’s how some interpret those last words of verse 7, “and all the people of the earth will mourn because of him.” At the end, the sight of the King will move all to tears of repentance for their rejection of Christ, and all will be saved. That’s one way to read verse 7, but Revelation ends with the destruction of all that opposes God. Thus, this mourning at the beginning may well be tears of despair. That interpretation seems to be more in keeping with John’s words in his gospel, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) If this is what the prophecy of Rev. 1:7 means, then the mourning of humanity is filled with regret, but not repentance (cf. II Cor. 7:8-11). But we should leave that up to God. John’s point here is that the invisible Christ is coming. Let there be no doubt about it. “So shall it be! Amen!”
Our lectionary reading for the celebration of Christ the King ends with the signature of the Divine Author. Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and repeating the formula of the opening benediction, the Lord God claims to be the Almighty (pantokrator). Is this God the Father speaking? That’s how verse 4 uses the formula “is and was and is to come.” But in 1:17, 18 and in 21:6 and 22:13, Christ claims to be the Alpha and the Omega. We’re undoubtedly touching the mystery of the Trinity here, so we don’t really have to decide which person of the Godhead is speaking. The point is that the invisible One whose voice rings throughout Revelation is eternal and almighty, contrary to “The Powers That Be” who seem to rule the world of the 7 churches.
Whatever we do with the pictures that follow the individual letters to the 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3, we must always keep in mind these opening few words. Whoever the Beasts may be, whenever all this takes place, however we interpret the numbers that dot the letter, whatever we make of the 1000 years, John has relayed this series of pictures to give these persecuted Christians the grace and peace that are rooted in the persons of the Trinity and the work of Christ the King. We can survive anything if we are sure of that grace and peace.
Because Revelation is a letter to Christians struggling to survive, we should be especially alert to survivalist talk on the fringes of today’s church. The headline said, “Mormon Apocalypse Prediction Has People Stocking Up On Food.” The attending article from the Salt Lake Tribune dated September 13 said the following: “Sales of freeze dried food, flashlights, blankets, and tents have soared in recent weeks as some Mormons have begun to prepare for the end of the world. The so-called ‘preppers’ believe the world is ending this month based on biblical prophecies, the Hebrew calendar, an unstable economy, world politics, and astronomical occurrences.” So, what you need when the Apocalypse is about to happen is blankets and dried beans? Contrast that with John’s simply profound, “Grace and Peace to you.”
As you ponder God’s first words to these struggling Christians, recall famous first words in our culture. A well-known country song entitled “Famous First Words” lists some first words you might hear in a bar. “Hey, where have you been all my life? Haven’t we met somewhere before? Don’t I know you? I sure like that dress. It matches your eyes. How ‘bout a drink? Where are you from?” On a more cultured front, think of famous first lines in literature. “There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (George Orwell, 1984) “In our family, there were no clear lines between religion and fly fishing.” (Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It) “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities) Contrast all of that with “grace and peace to you.” And thank God.