Eye Of The Pneuma

He [God] said [to Abraham], “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

[And Jesus said to the Jews who argued with him],”Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

My wife and I are walking through a “strange” time right now. Questions concerning ministry and employment, just what and where God has for us are foremost on our minds. Anyway, we both woke up around 4:30 this morning, and neither of us could go back to sleep. So we prayed, snuggled for a while, and then figured we’d go ahead and get out of bed since it was obvious that we were up for good. I put on a pot of coffee and told her I was heading out for my morning “ralk.” (That’s when you run a little bit and walk a little bit, run a little, walk a little, etc…)

As I made my way through my course, I began to pray and still my heart before the Lord. I was thinking about everything that’s happened over the past little while, the conversations I’d had with my wife and others, wondering what was going on, trying to believe that God was “up to something.” Then, in my heart, I heard the Spirit whisper,” Abraham saw my day and rejoiced.” Now, at first glance, you’re probably wondering what in the world that has to do with the situation at hand. But the statement prompted me to ask a question: “How did Abraham see?” Now we’re getting somewhere.

One of the most challenging things for us who live in physical bodies, who occupy time and space, who walk in the “natural,” and interpret life empirically is to see in the spirit. And so much of what Jesus said/says is multidimensional. During his “earthly ministry” he consistently made statements that could only be interpreted through means of spiritual revelation (“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life..”). Think about it: “Destroy this temple and I’ll raise it up in three days.” Or, “Ask me for the living water and you’ll never thirst again.” Or how about, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” This is a great one, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” Was Jesus speaking of the physical temple that stood in Jerusalem at that time? Was “the leaven of the Pharisees some kind of rank bread the disciples needed to avoid? Would he produce this living water from some secret underground spring? Was he offering his body for some kind of weird “Walking Dead” cannibalistic cult ritual? No, these are just a few examples of things we have to “see” by the Spirit.

Jesus is still challenging us to live by the Spirit today. And while it is true that revelation is something that we receive by the Spirit of God, frequently it is in those situations that make absolutely no sense or even run contrary to the natural mind that the Spirit uses to bring understanding. And that’s where the “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced.” took me this morning.

We know from reading the Bible that it never entered into God’s heart to demand human sacrifice from men: “They [ancient Israel]have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!” So, God’s testing of Abraham was not to see whether or not Abraham would really sacrifice Isaac. Besides, if God is truly God, he already knew what Abe would do. (Perhaps we need a more complete understanding of God’s “testing” or “tempting” as some translations regretfully put it.) I believe that it was here, in this strange and even hurtful context, that Abraham gained a revelation of what God intended to do through Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. That which made no sense in the natural brought increased intimacy, illumination, and joy.

So, where does that leave us? What’s the application as they say? As children of God we can rest assured of the kind intentions that the Lord has towards us in Christ Jesus. He is committed to bring us through the entirety of our lives and present us to himself, holy and blameless. His desire is that we might have spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in our knowledge of God, that our hearts will be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called.” And we would do well to remember that wisdom, insight, and knowledge are often derived from revelation that has been produced in patient endurance and trust in the midst of circumstances that make little to no sense in our natural minds. Circumstances that provide us with spiritual eyes through which we may “see and rejoice.”

Smyrna: The Second Death

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11 ESV)

 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And 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 ESV)

 Recent shifts in theological thought have moved many away from the belief in a literal hell. And for many who still accept the concept of hell, the debate centers around whether or not it is a place of eternal punishment, or one of limited duration. Honestly, while I do believe the Bible teaches that there is a literal, eternal hell (a place of eternal separation from God); I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about it. Don’t misunderstand me; people need to be aware of the horrific reality of eternal separation from God. Frankly though, most times I think we’re best served when our conversation is centered around the beauty of the One who came to bring us life. But in order to deal honestly with the final comments of our Lord in his letter to the church in Smyrna, hell does need to be a part of the conversation.

 Remember Smyrna was a church that faced great poverty and persecution. Both the Jews and the Romans represented a clear and present danger to anyone who called himself a Christian. Because of their faith in Jesus, the believers in Smyrna literally had their life on the line. They knew firsthand about martyrdom, and in time, they would experience it even more. Jesus had written to the church through the Apostle John and encouraged them to stop being afraid, but rather be faithful even to the point of death. A crown of life awaited the faithful. Now, Jesus closes by giving the assurance that while faithfulness in this life may result in death, the victorious need not fear the second death. What a comfort this must have been to a group of people who faced immanent danger at all times. They were reminded that this present life is not all there is. There would come a day of judgment and ultimate finality, but the church in Smyrna needed to know that the eternal life they were experiencing in Jesus would continue even if they were martyred for their faith. They had nothing to fear.

 Many in our churches today are honestly terrified and just “holding on ‘til Jesus comes and raptures us out of here.” There are also those who see no need to concern themselves with what’s going on in the world because after all, “ Wont be long and we’ll be outa here boy!” I don’t think that’s the message Jesus gave to the church in Smyrna, nor is it the message given to us who read the book of Revelation today. They weren’t going to be spared. They were going to suffer. But the promise is that even in death, they would live because He himself is life. He was the One who died, but lives. The believers in Smyrna were not promised rescue from their present circumstances, but they were promised that forfeiture of their present lives in no way signified the end.

Listen church of the 21st century. We live in a real world, with real issues. We can’t stick our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend everything’s alright. Our relationship with Jesus will by definition cause us to be directly involved in world events. Our faith may indeed demand the ultimate price. However, even if being faithful to Jesus ends up costing us our homes, our comforts or even our very lives; there is the promise of eternal life in God’s very presence. Brothers and sisters, this life is not all there is and we need to live and serve with that in mind. We American Christians spend so much time worrying about our precious rights, what we deserve, and how we’re going to fight and take it all back for Jesus. Funny thing is Jesus tells those in Smyrna, “Some of you won’t make it through this, but be faithful, because even in death you will live.” There is no exhortation to buy weapons or protest the unfair treatment they were suffering. No, Jesus comforts and strengthens them by reminding them that though they should die, they will live eternally, unharmed by the second death.

 Ever heard of Polycarp? (No, it’s not some kind of weird fish.) He was an early Christian Father who actually sat under the teachings of the Apostle John and served as Bishop in Smyrna. He paid for his faith with his life. It is said that although his martyrdom occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, their hatred for him was so great that they broke Sabbath law and were among the first to gather sticks for the fire with which he was to be burned. He was given a chance to deny Christ and save himself. But Polycarp responded with: “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I deny the King who saved me? I do not fear the fire that burns for a season and after a while is quenched. Come, why do you delay? Come do your will.” And then he prayed, “I thank thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour that I might receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ.”

 There are so many of our brothers and sisters being killed every day simply because they are Christians. We’ve all heard of what is going on in Egypt, and that’s just what’s in the news right now. Such suffering and persecution may indeed come our way as well. I pray that you will be comforted by the words of our Lord spoken to his church in Smyrna: “Stop being afraid. Be faithful in your suffering and I will give you the crown of life. You have no need to fear the second death. I am the first and the last, the one who died and lives!”








Smyrna: I Became Dead but Live!

Of the seven letters written to the churches in the book of Revelation, I think it is the church in Smyrna that we, the American Church, have the least in common with. The irony of it all is that I believe that the letter to Smyrna is precisely the letter we need to hear from most. Soooo, I want to take the letter verse by verse, look at some history that will help us understand how the folks at Smyrna may have received the letter originally, and then hopefully point out some relevant application for us. Let’s do it.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’”(Revelation 2:8-11 ESV)

Jesus greeted Smyrna with the words “[The One speaking to you is the] first and the last, who died and came to life.” Those words would have immediately gotten the attention of the people because Smyrna was literally a city that had come back from the dead. Smyrna was a piece of prime real-estate, and although it had been the site of many civil wars, its location made it advantageous to rebuild. Around 580 BC Smyrna had been destroyed by Alyattes, the king of neighboring Lydia, and had lain “dead” for centuries. It was ultimately rebuilt around 290 BC by Lysimachus and Antigonus. So when Jesus says, “I am the One who became dead but lives,” the people were reminded of their own history, but more importantly that the One speaking to them knows first hand what it truly means for life to come through death. He is the first and last, the One who like Smyrna had died and lives. And this One would never die again! And with the suffering, persecution and death the church in Smyrna faced, it was important for them to understand that for the believer, death is not the end. In fact, it is through death that life comes.

I think the Church in America has forgotten that although we do have life in Christ, this life does not come as a result of pursuing “life, liberty, and happiness,” but from embracing the cross. Only as we die to ourselves, pick up our own cross and follow him do we know what it means to truly live. In our ease and prosperity we have forgotten that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Our ministers sometimes see and promote themselves with such arrogant flamboyance forgetting that a true servant of the church is one who says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” – Life coming through death! We have become so consumed with preserving our lives and way of life that we scarcely speak of having been crucified with Christ and living only because of Christ who lives in us. I think we here in the West must remember that even as Jesus became a corpse and lives, so we too must participate in his death that we might live.

In the days that lie ahead, the American church may indeed find out what it means to face the tribulation the church in Smyrna endured. I pray that we will heed the words of Him who became dead but lives.

To be continued…