Monday, October 16, 2017

From the Ground Up

Sunday, June 4, 2017, 21:51
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“Faithfulness springs up from the ground,

and righteousness looks down from the sky.”

Psalm 85:11

To the very apostle to whom, from the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ committed his own mother, [1] God gave “the revelation of Jesus Christ” in order “to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” [2]  John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos, and he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he heard “a loud voice like a trumpet” tell him to write what he was seeing in a book and to send it to seven individual churches located in what was then Asia Minor. [3]  These seven congregations are specifically identified in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation whereby they are commended, encouraged, corrected, and warned by the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Himself.

In chapters four and five, the scene dramatically shifts to the throne in heaven itself surrounded by four living creatures and twenty-four elders engaged in unceasing worship of their Lord and God.  Contemplating a great dilemma before him, the Apostle John is deeply troubled and weeping loudly.  Even a strong angel seems to have been befuddled by the fact that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to open the scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne or to look into it.” [4]  Then came the turning point:

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,

 the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’”[5]

But when John turned, expecting to view this Lion, it was not a Lion that he saw, but rather “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”  As he took the scroll from the one seated upon the throne, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . . and they sang a new song.” [6] 

Through this revelation given to the apostle John, redeemed men, women, and children who continue to struggle with the effects of Adam’s sin (and the reality of their own) may view the foundation and fullest expression of true worship. [7]  As John informs us, Jesus Christ is the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world.” [8]  Every Old Testament sacrifice, patriarchal or post-Sinai, pointed to His sacrificial death.  New Testament writers recorded and expounded how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Old Testament shadows and types; and the book of Revelation, in particular, assures us that martyred saints emerging from great tribulation will “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” [9]

By contrast, the book of Revelation goes on to inform us concerning a world government with religious overtones orchestrated from a city of seven hills.  This city features a blasphemous beast of a political/religious leader in collusion with a counterfeit messianic figure who performs great signs, even giving breath to a false image and executing those who refuse to bow to it.  The good news is that the true elect of God — will not ultimately be corrupted by it even in the face of death.  World history (ultimately His story) will be an intense time of bold gospel proclamation in the face of great spiritual compromise–indeed a time of sowing and reaping.  It will involve seven hideous plagues and the outpouring of “the wrath of the Lamb” upon those who have chosen to make themselves His enemies.  This apocalyptic scene ought to motivate us to pray for strength and courage lest we ourselves succumb to that “hideous strength”! [10]  As Nehemiah reminds us, “the joy of the LORD” is our strength! [11]     

John’s Apocalypse graphically portrays “the great prostitute sitting on a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns” and designated  “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”  She is intoxicated with the blood of the saints–martyred for steadfastly holding to their confession of faith in Jesus Christ.  The “seven heads” of the beast represent “seven hills” on which this “mother of prostitutes” is seated and also “seven kings.”  The woman herself, “Babylon the great”, John tells us, is “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”  The ten kings, represented by the ten horns, are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.  They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is “Lord of lords and King of kings,” and those with him are called and “chosen and faithful.”

But the book of Revelation is a tale of two cities.  John was also shown the “holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”  “It had a great, high wall. . . And the wall of that city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [12]  That certainly trumps anything we can imagine this side of glory!

In one of his epistles, the apostle John tells us not to believe every spirit but to “test the spirits” as to “whether they be of  God.” [13]  “No one speaking by the Spirit calls Jesus accursed.” [14]  Jesus said, “By their fruits, you shall know them.” [15]  True worship is, after all, about character and the direction of one’s life.  Accordingly, “faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” [16]  True worship is a joyful engaging of the heart, as well as the mind–“in spirit and in truth.”  Jesus informed the Samaritan woman at the well that God seeks such worshipers! [17] 

Should we not, therefore, in keeping with the idiom of C. S. Lewis, open our hearts to the divine joy that comes as a surprise. [18]  One Christian songster (unknown to this writer) conflated 1 Peter 1:8 with the idiom of the queen of Sheba to give us the following chorus:

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory, full of glory.  It is joy unspeakable and full of glory.  And the half has never yet been told! [19]  

Jesus of Nazareth, who by his own affirmation is “the root and descendant of David,” [20] assured his audience that “a greater than Solomon is here.” [21]  This same Jesus, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, stood and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart [“belly” KJV] will flow rivers of living water.” [22]  Dare we presume to exercise our faith without drinking deeply of that living water?  That is a matter for every professing Christian to consider.

It is, after all, the blessed Paraclete who renders us “Christians” in the fullest sense of that word (Luke 3:21-22; Acts 11:26).  While we are complete in Christ (God’s Anointed), [23] let us be reminded that it is in Jesus Christ’s name that the Father sends the Holy Spirit whereby we are clothed with power from on high. [24]  To be sure, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” [25]  We are, therefore, on solid biblical ground to keep the feast by believing the promise and welcoming its fulfillment in our own lives! [26]  Somewhere in this writer’s pilgrimage, he was introduced to the following chorus:

I want more of Jesus, more and more and more–

More and more of Jesus than I’ve ever had before.

I want more of His great love, rich and full and free-

I want more of Jesus, so I’ll give Him more of me!

Yes, the Christian faith is experiential! [27]  Jacob refused to let go of God [28] until God granted the very blessing Jacob desired–knowing that even that desire emanated from God.  Jesus Himself invites you to ask in His name while promising that you will receive “that your joy may be full.” [29]

John reminded his readers, “The time is near”–the time for the fulfillment of all the events concerning which he prophesied as he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” [30]

Let us continue to ponder the worship of those twenty-four elders lest our hearts grow cold [31] in mere formality.  Of course, the Book of Revelation reminds us that even “cold” would be preferable to “lukewarm.” [32]

And when we glorify the Lord in all we do,

give the glory all to Jesus, then it’s true–

He will pour the Holy Ghost upon all flesh as he said he would

There’ll be dancing in the streets to the glory of God! [33]

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“Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” [34] 

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Scriptures quoted are taken from the English Standard Version published by Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, and, on occasion, from the King James Version.

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About the Author

David C. Brand has served churches in Washington, Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia, administered Christian schools in New Jersey and Arizona, served a year in mission work in Seoul,  Korea, and directed ADVOCATE Enterprise <www.advocateenterprise.org>, an educational project, in Ohio.  Best known among the several books he has authored is Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific published by Scholars Press as part of the Academy Series of the American Academy of Religion, 1991. He and his wife, Marilyn, have four grown children and eight grandchildren.

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Works Cited

Brand, David C. 1991. Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific. American Academy of Religion. Academy Series. Scholars Press: Atlanta, GA

Gerstner, John H. 1991. The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. I.  Berea Publications: Powhatan, Virginia; Ligonier Ministries: Orlando,FL

Holy Bible, The. English Standard Version. 2001. Classic Reference Bible.    Crossway Bibles: Wheaton, Illinois.

Lewis, C. S.  1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. www.HarcourtBooks.com

——–.  1943. (Original copyright) That Hideous Strength. Book Three of Space Trilogy Series. Now available through American Kindle and Amazon.com.

Logan, Samuel T. 1984. Course on Jonathan Edwards. Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

Works of Jonathan Edwards, The. 1879. Revised and Corrected by Edward Hickman. 2 vols. Twelfth Edition. London: William Tegg & Co.

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Endnotes

[1]. John 19:25-27

[2]. Rev. 1:1

[3]. Rev. 1:10-11

[4]. Rev. 5:2-4

[5]. Rev. 5:5

[6]. Rev. 5:6-8

[7]. Rev. 5:6-14

[8]. Rev. 13:8

[9]. Rev. 7:14

[10]. A book entitled That Hideous Strength was written by C. S. Lewis .

[11]. Nehemiah 8:10

[12]. Rev. 21:10-14

[13]. 1 John 4:1

[14]. 1 Cor. 12:3

[15]. Matt. 7:16

[16]. Psalm 85:11

[17]. John 4:23-24; Note the important role ascribed to the affections in Jonathan Edwards’s Treatise on Religious Affections which Dr. Samuel T. Logan, former President and Chancellor of Westminister Seminary, hailed as “the greatest theological work ever written in North America.”

[18]. Lewis penned his autobiography under the title: Surprised By Joy.

[19]. 1 Kings 10:6-7

[20]. Rev. 22:16

[21]. Matt. 12:42

[22]. John 7:37-38

[23]. Col. 2:10

[24]. John 14:26

[25]. 1 Cor. 12:3

[26]. Acts 2:38-39; 8:14-17; 9:17

[27]. This was the issue which Puritan stalwart Jonathan Edwards addressed in his Treatise on Religious Affections in the aftermath of the revival at Northampton, Massachusetts, which was followed by George Whitefield’s evangelistic tour.  John Gerstner, in volume one of The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, reminded his readers, however, that Edwards drew the line on miraculous sign gifts operative in the period of the apostles insisting that they had no valid expression for the church following the completion of the biblical canon.

[28]. Gen. 32:24-30

[29]. John 16:24

[30]. Rev. 1:3, 10

[31]. Matt. 24:12

[32] Rev. 3:16

[33]. This chorus was sung by a group of students led by Mike Sampson from Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.  They visited Jersey Presbyterian Church, Pataskala, Ohio, where the writer served as pastor, 1970-1973.

[34]. Psalm 85:11

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