The New Testament - "The End" That Never Ends
Oh hey, short on time? No worries! I'd love to join you on your commute or daily walk/run, or shoot, even while you take care of that to-do list. We can't let these things get in the way of this friendship. It's just starting to get good! Click below to listen to the blogcast.
Quick recap - God uses an unlikely man to spread the Good News of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. Though, "unlikely" is an understatement. This man persecuted and supported the murder of Christians.
Yet, Jesus, chooses to pursue him.
It's a prime example of what Jesus taught - He came for the sick, for those in need of a Savior. He wasn't and isn't afraid of our messes, our ugly past, our great sins, our reputation of grave mistakes. He pursues us while we are still sinners, so it should be no surprise He did this with Paul.
The life of Paul is at-minimum inspiring. It's a life once lived blinded, but by the grace of God through Jesus, he now sees so clearly. He sees God's glory through the most brutal and lonely of circumstances - shipwrecked and imprisoned.
His pivot was Jesus.
Last week, we covered the letters Paul wrote. (And sheeeeesh, a busy pen pal he was!) This week, we're taking a look at the remaining letters of the New Testament, those not written by Paul.
A pastor of mine once said, "We all need counseling, but not everyone realizes it yet." If there's a man needing to process through some intense head versus heart contemplations, it would be the half-brother of Jesus, James.
James did not believe his brother was the Messiah until after Jesus' death. His turning point - his "but by the grace of God through Jesus" moment - to belief was seeing Jesus resurrected.
James writes to Jews who are scattered, outside the holy land. He's super-ooper practical. I'm not kidding. Maybe it's because he spent much of his life not believing and now he had the certainty he longed for so there's no need to beat around the bush. It's a get-to-the-point read.
James is straight-forward in his approach and warns us of the dangers of getting too comfortable and relaxed in our faith. Once I happened to be studying the book of James with my life group when praying through a big decision and James' words served to light a fire beneath me and propel me into obedience. I knew what God was calling me towards but I was trying to get around it. How serious was God about this? Was it just a suggestion?
"If you know what you're supposed to do and do not do it, it is a sin. - James 1:16
The word echoed through the deepest chambers of my heart and healthy fear of the Lord overwhelmed me. I knew choosing for forego the will of God is choosing to forego the protection of God, too.
Then, in the next chapter, James reminds us,
Faith without works is dead. - James 2:17
See what I mean? No beating around the bush.
Our works cannot save us, Jesus has already saved us. Yet, good works are proof of a grounded faith. James is pointing to what Jesus taught. If we say we believe in Christ, there should be fruit to show for it. Fruit is the evidence of faith.
Like James, Jude is another half-brother of Jesus who also didn't believe Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus died and rose again. Jude's writing, too, is the get-to-the-point kind and helps us understand the need to have discernment and warns against false teachers.
While we do not know the author of Hebrews, the message is clear. Jesus is the Prophet, the Priest and the King. In this, Jesus fulfills the Jewish law, even pointing out Jesus is greater than Moses (cue the gasps by all Jews in the audience). Hebrews recaps the heroes of our faith - those who have gone before us in the Old Testament who believed wholeheartedly in God - and we are urged to be faithful. We are urged to be full of faith.
1 & 2 Peter
Remember back a few weeks to the disciple who denied Jesus three times? The one who Jesus charged with the mission to feed and care for His lambs, to build His church? Yep, ol' Petey! He's back and this time he's writing a couple letters to Jewish Christians to spur them on in truth and to persevere.
Like Paul, he, too, is writing this while being persecuted. Yet, he leads us to be hopeful, expectant and joyful with a tone of obedience, power and fear of the Lord.
The Books of John
Knowing how much John loved Jesus and how loved he felt by Jesus, it makes sense these are the final writings we have in The Bible.
His first three books are brief:
1 John - He calls us "little children" not in a prideful and superior way but in a humble and caring way to tell us how to model our lives after Jesus. Specifically, he tells us as believers we are to live in the light, confess our sins, obey God's commands, live as Jesus did, love others and not the world, and believe in Christ.
2 John - The start of this book would likely raise some eyebrows, maybe even cause some steam to blow out of some ancient ears. This is the only book in The New Testament written to... a woman! It can be summed up in these verses:
And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. - 2 John 1:5-6
They will know we love God and follow Christ as we ...point out all of their wrongdoings?
Nope! Let's try that again...
They will know we love God and follow Christ as we ...love one another! Not just those who we like but everyone - even our enemies, those who hurt us and betray us and speak ill of us. Yes, even those who annoy us, those who we might describe as a VDP - Very Draining Person. Yes, we are to love all of the above.
LOVE is powerful because God is love. We love others because He first loved us.
3 John - Nearing the end of his life, John writes to a friend of his, a man named Gaius, to encourage him in his faith.
And now, we come to the last book in The Bible. Revelation is intimidating because it's apocalyptic literature. It's written using symbols and imagery. This is not just an ancient practice, we use images today. Even daily...
We see the golden arches and know it's McDonald's.
We see the red bullseye and know it's Target.
We don't have time to text out "Yes" so we send the party emoji.
Mkay, just me on that last one? Well, you should try it. It's fun.
All to say, to understand the book of Revelation, we have to understand the images and learn to decode the vision. There is so much in this book and we can't cover it all in our time together today, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you study:
Writing this, imagine John later in his life. He's the last of the original 12 disciples to still be alive on earth and he's on an island. But we should not imagine an umbrella straw in his coconut water and a lounger in the sand, here's why: this was not vacation. This was banishment. His punishment for preaching the Gospel was banishment to an island while believers were being persecuted in greater ways than ever before by the Roman government, physically and economically.
Through a series of visions given to John, we see The Bible come full circle. This is important, especially to the Christians at the time who were under such persecution. They needed to know how this story ends. They needed to know who holds the real power and authority. Is it the Roman government or is it the trinity of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit?
Even though The Bible was not written to us, it was written for us. We, too, see and experience evil in our world, but we can take heart because evil will not have the final word. Jesus has overcome. He was the Lamb who was slain so He could become the Lion of Judah and have all power and all authority.
Revelation establishes God's sovereignty over evil. Everything moves to God's plan, even evil, because He is above it. God will keep the promise He made to us in the very beginning.
As incredible as the Garden of Eden was, it will pale in comparison to the glory of the new heaven and new earth when Jesus returns. The enemy will be defeated forever. No sadness, no sin, no death. We will spend eternity with our Savior and heavenly Father.
As we near wrapping up this series (one more post to share next week), I wonder if you feel like I do -
This homesickness we feel is just a symptom of a greater reality.
We are not yet home.
When and how are not details for us to know, but as we wait for the return of our Savior, let's cling to the final words God spoke to John,
“Yes, I am coming soon.” - Revelation 22:20
John's response - a man who longs to be with his beloved Friend and Savior again, writes,
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. - Revelation 22:20
So be it. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
A friend of mine once said "Once you understand the extent of the Gospel, this is the prayer that is on your heart." May it be on our hearts, too.
May we find strength in the Word of God. May our joy for reading scripture grow as we intentionally choose to set aside time to spend reading it each day. May our peace overflow as the Word of God reads us and changes us from the inside out. Then, we will know rest this world can't give.
Remember how we said 5 minutes a day can change your day, your life and even your eternity? Well, here's what I'll be reading this week. I really hope you'll join me!
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
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