Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 21:22-22:5 (Christmas Eve)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday 24 December 2020 Revelation 21:22-22:5


The Text

22. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 

23. The city had no need that the sun or the moon should shine upon it for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb is its lamp. 

24. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bear their glory into it.

25. Its gates never close in the day, for there is no night.   

26. They will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 

27. Nothing unclean, anyone committing abominations, or falsehoods may enter into it, only those people written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Chapter 22

1. He showed me a river of living water glimmering like crystal coming out from the throne of God and the Lamb.

2. In the middle of the town square, on both sides of the river, the tree of life bore twelve kinds of fruit, producing the fruit according to each month. The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. 

3. The curse, all of it, will be no more. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 

4. They will see his face and his name will be upon their foreheads. 

5. Night will be no more. They will have no need of the light from a lamp or the sun because the Lord God will shine upon them and they will reign forever. 


Commentary

Our Advent readings have come to an end. This is the last one, as today is Christmas Eve. I had to make a choice, because the Christmas Eve reading is different than the one for “Thursday” of the week. I went with the textual conclusion, because the Christmas Eve reading is from Philippians. Besides, having been so long in this subject of Christ’s second advent, it felt right to continue there, and did it ever.

There is so much to say, but not at this present moment. Allow me, however, to make the following brief observations. The idea of light is woven throughout these verses, specifically the idea that lamps and the sun are no longer needed, and indeed, seem to no longer really exist. God and the Lamb — the Father and the Son, now are the light source for humanity. Along with this is the idea that night has been banished. The banishment of night goes along with the banishment of the curse. All bad things are wiped away.

A second big idea is healing. The tree of life somehow is nestled across both sides of the river of life, maybe as a bridge. This scene is located in the town square where everything is transparent gold. The tree produces twelve different kinds of fruits (there is that number again) and the leaves will heal the nations. That is some serious pharmacology there — the medicine we need is from this tree. Healing wounds, hurts, traumas, marriages, relationships, families, churches, and yes, even nations. I am reminded of the prophetic line from Isaiah, that it is by his stripes we are healed. Jesus was crucified upon a tree where his healing blood flowed. The tree of life has some kind of connection to that work.

One more curiosity that has intrigued me since my childhood. The kings are bringing their glory and honor into the city. This sounds like tribute. But that is insignificant. The bigger question is: who are these kings on the outside who are coming inside? Are they the nations needing continual healing? Why are there other kings and kingdoms in heaven? I have to admit, to me, it is a very confusing notion of which I have several possible explanations, but it is not appropriate at this time to share those.

Verse 5, I think, might be the most beautiful words ever etched. God and the Lamb, the Father and the Son, will shine and they will reign forever. Amen. Maranatha.


Questions For Application

  1. How do you think it is that God and the Lamb are the temple? What is the temple of the Holy Spirit right now? How might these two ideas blend into one thought?
  2. There seems to be a coming and going into the city — with gates being opened — and entry determined by registry in the books. How does that challenge your ideas of eternity?
  3. Here at the end, the curse is banished. What is the curse, and where did it start?
  4. What ways can we implement the teachings of Christ’s second advent into our nostalgia filled sappy Christmas celebrations?
Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 21:9-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday 23 December 2020 Revelation 21:9-21


The Text

9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the last seven plagues came and spoke to me. He said, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

10. He took me away in spirit to a large, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.   

11. The brilliance of it had the glory of God, like precious stones, like jasper stones sparkling like crystal.

12. It had a large and high wall, and twelve gates. Upon the gates were twelve angels and the names of the twelve tribes, the sons of Israel, were inscribed. 

13. There were from the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates. 

14. The city wall had twelve foundation stones, and upon those twelve were the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles. 

15. The one speaking to me had a golden measuring stick so he could measure the city, its gates, and its wall.

16. The city is laid out as a four-cornered square. Its length is equal to its width. He measured with his stick twelve thousand stadia. The length, width, and height are equal. 

17. He measured its wall at one hundred forty-four cubits, as a human measures, so does an angel. 

18. The enclosure of the wall is jasper. The city is pure gold like clear glass.

19. The foundation of the city all had been adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedon, the fourth emerald,

20. the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh golden stone, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each of the gates was one pearl apiece. The city square was pure gold like transparent glass. 


Commentary

This beautiful text is mostly a description of what the angel shows John regarding the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. It is fantastical to visualize in our mind, but the text is fairly straight forward, but there are three themes I’d like to call your attention to.

The first theme is the number twelve. Revelation is a book filled with numerology and symbolic use of numbers, and here it is no different. We have in our text twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve stones, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve different kinds of stones. In addition to that we have twelve thousand stadia as the length. I did not render this in miles in my translation — which is a little over thirteen hundred miles — because that loses the twelve mojo. It is twelve thousand stadia. Then the wall is measured at one hundred forty-four cubits — I didn’t render that in feet — about 216 feet — because the point is that the width is twelve squared — one hundred forty-four.

A second theme is the completely outlandish building materials. The gates are each made from a single grand pearl. I do not want to see the oyster that produced those pearls. Then there is the references to gold, pure gold, and what I think is transparent gold (v. 21). I have rendered ‘streets of gold’ as the city square’ because that is what I think is being referenced, the town center, something like a boardwalk of plaza. It is made of something like pure gold. The taxonomy of different precious stones is not only impressive it is dizzying. Jasper is mentioned three times by my count, as well as various other rare jewels. There seems to be some discussion about what exactly is meant by chalcedon–the ESV uses agate–but it is certainly an impressive list. It seems to me to indicate that heaven is such a place of plenty that rare and valuable building materials are used for common every day functions.

The third theme is size and dimension. If I understand it correctly, this city, this New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is equal in width, height, and length and it is a four cornered square. Heaven is then, a cube city of sorts. I don’t know how that works, but the size is enormous. Thirteen hundred miles long, wide, and high is roughly the size of North America but three dimensional. Heaven, if this description of New Jerusalem is indeed our eternal heaven, will be plenty big enough to house us all comfortably.


Questions For Application

  1. Which is more impressive to you, the building materials of this city or the size of it?
  2. Why do you think there is equal representation for the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles? (Side note: Do you think these twelve apostles names include Judas, or has his name been replaced with someone else, say, Paul?)
  3. Do you own any of these precious stones mentioned? Why do humans value these stones?
  4. Can you imagine walking around in this place?
Featured

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 5 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


The Text

13. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to not know about the ones who have fallen asleep, that you might not grieve as everyone else who has no hope. 

14. For we believe that Jesus died and rose, that God, through Jesus, will then lead out with him those who sleep.

15. We say this to you as a word from the Lord, those of us left living at the coming of the Lord will not arrive before those who are sleeping.

16. The Lord himself will command the archangel sound the trumpet of God, then he will come from heaven. The dead in Messiah will rise first.

17. Then, those of us remaining alive will be seized and carried off together with them in the clouds, meeting up with the Lord in the air, and we will be with him always.

18. You must comfort one another with these words. 


Commentary

Saturday’s reading is not long, but boy does it pack a powerful punch.

I usually read these verses at gravesides for funerals. They don’t have the same ring in the chapel or the worship center as they do right beside the grave. For our faith teaches us that the dearly beloved we are laying to rest, if they have faith, will come up out of this very grave and meet Jesus in the air before those living do.

Verse 14 is an interesting grammatical pretzel for me. In the GNT there is an “if” in the text that should read something like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose” but then the “if” doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence unless something is supplied — like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose, then when we are asleep God will lead us out (of the grave) through Jesus.” That kind of construction is the only way I know to make the ‘if’ feature work, but I want you to know there is an ‘if’ there. Paul means this kind of redemption over death is contingent upon our personal beliefs. What we believe matters. If.

This is the essence of the comfort, and it is only for us if we believe and if the dead believed. We need to be careful to not preach or talk as if dead people who didn’t believe have this same assurance. They do not.

Paul seems to see an order that goes like this: The Lord commands the archangel to play the trumpet, Jesus comes from heaven, then the dead rise up. After that, and lastly, the believing community alive are caught up with Jesus in the air as he is en route to the earth to bring all things to an end.

Death is a fascinating subject, but I have always interpreted these lines to mean that for me, as a believer, when I die, the next moment after my death is the coming up into heaven with Jesus in the clouds rather than entry straight away into heaven.

That’s my take, anyway.


Questions For Application

  1. Believers are not devoid of grief, but our grief is different. How so?
  2. Do you believe Jesus died and rose again and is coming again? (I do)
  3. Which do you believe — that we who believe go straight to heaven when we die or that we awake in the clouds as Jesus is coming back? Why?
  4. These are advent verses precisely because Jesus came the first time and promised to come again. How can you incorporate the promises of a second advent into your celebration of the first?

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL–MOVIE REVIEW

1467375_1435150886704436_1312764087_n

Do you believe in Heaven?

Most studies show that 85-90% of Americans believe in some kind of afterlife they call Heaven.  That is a high percentage of people to believe in anything.  For comparison, some polls have that only 80% of Americans believe we actually landed on the moon in 1969.  Heaven is doing pretty well in the court of public opinion.

The widespread belief in Heaven might be why the interwebs are all abuzz about the movie Heaven is For Real.  I have been asked by several people over the past couple of days what I think about the movie.  At first, I referred them to my review of the book a couple of years ago.  Click here to read the review of the book.  Yesterday, though, I broke down and bought my ticket to see the movie.  I watched it in a theater filled with 70ish year old women.  I sorta stood out.

Part One:  The movie as a movie

The acting in the film was really great.  Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly are great together and it feels like they’ve been married for years.  It was good to see Thomas Haden Church again and Margo Martindale almost steals the show.  Most people will point to the child actor, Connor Corum as cutely adorable and compelling in his portrayal of Colton Burpo, but I have high standards for kid actors and only rate him as average.  In some parts of the movie he reminded me of the creepy kid from The Shining rather than the sweet boy from the book.

The movie is beautifully shot.  Most of the filming takes place outside, which is nice.

Kinnear and Reilly
Kinnear and Reilly

The key problems with the movie was pacing, editing, and the screenwriting.  Some of the dialogue, particularly that of anyone not Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly was either filled with clichés or weirdly over structured.  I found this particularly with lines ascribed to Colton.  I didn’t feel the movie came to a good conclusion either.  It just sort of ended without any kind of resolution.

Watching the film I could tell there was a tension in the storytelling.  I think the creative people knew that keeping as much of Colton’s experiences mystical was a positive.  They didn’t want to show too much.  The producers though, with their churchy agenda, needed to always explain everything and make sure there was no room for doubt as to what really was going on.  What I am saying is that the movie explains too much, instead of letting things sometimes just hang there.

Overall I would give the film a C+ because it was slightly above average, enjoyable, and overall positive.  It is the kind of movie you can take your whole family to and not have to worry about language, nudity, or violence.  It was much better, than say, Iron Man 3 or American Hustle.  Another plus for the movie is that it will spark conversation.  That is always good.

Part Two:  The movie as a theological/ecclesiastical vehicle

I believe in Heaven because Jesus said so in the Bible.  I don’t need the movie to affirm it, however, that is major theological contribution of this film.  It affirms the biblical belief in Heaven as place where Jesus is and that Heaven is possible because of Jesus.  I like that part.  The book does a much better job of processing Todd Burpo’s belief in the Bible with his son’s experiences.  But books always do, because we don’t just have the narrative, we have the explanation.  The movie misses some of that theological nuance.

If you came into the movie already believing in Heaven, you probably left with some level of warmth in your heart.  If you came into the movie with doubt and skepticism, you might leave questioning those assumptions.

The movie does other theological things too.  They let the dialogue of Kinnear and Reilly ezpress doubt and frustration about God and the nature of faith.  Kinnear is very believable as an overly emotional bi-vocational preacher who doesn’t think about biblical exposition as much as moves from one emotional moment to the next.  I’ve met a lot of pastors like that.  The people in this film and the events in this film are more emotional than theological.

Church life is portrayed somewhat accurately.  Although a lot of church personalities and issues are compressed into only a couple of people and covered fairly quickly.  When Kinnear’s character is called before the board and his job is in jeopardy, I felt a certain pang because I know good people who have gone through great crisis only to be turned out on their ear by their church.  Honestly, because I’ve seen inside the velvet rope, that part of the film had the most emotional impact for me.

I would not point to the movie as a theological exposition as much as it is an exposition of the Burpos’ life and experiences as well as an exposition of many people’s grappling with the nature of faith and the afterlife.  Here it is important to keep this key thing in mind–whether it is about the movie Noah, Heaven is For Real, or any other film we must never rely on Hollywood for our theological insight.  Hollywood is built to put butts in the theater.  Our theology is built to change lives for eternity.

One more theological thing–because it is Hollywood, there is a very universalist bent to it.  By that I mean, the assumption seems to me in the film that everybody goes to Heaven.  That is not part of my belief system.

Part Three:  Credibility

So much of this movie boils to whether you believe the kid or not?  It is that simple.  I just can’t believe that the dad intentionally made it up, but I also have hard time taking my gospel cues from a 4 year old.  I am so thankful that I have the Bible as my guide and can look at a film like this objectively, knowing that ultimately our personal experiences are not what I rely on.  I rely on the promises of God.  It is possible that an overzealous dad took a few off handed comments from his son and lead him on, we all know that is possible.

I would like the story to be true, though.  If it is true; then what is the key value for it?  It is nothing more than what we used to call ‘testimony’ in the old days.  Simply someone sharing, albeit with a large audience, what God has done in their life.  I put it in the same category as someone who tells me that they dreamed about Jesus and he told them to do something specific.  It happens all the time.

If it is not true, well, then that is not our problem.  It is Todd Burpo’s.