Easter Series – Week 3

Readings for this week March 21 – 25
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1 – The Time of Death

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 27:57-61
In between the horror of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and the miracle of his resurrection and the empty tomb, is a silent tomb. Jesus is dead. Hopes are dashed. Some people mourn the death of their friend and their dreams, and the death of the loyal, loving people they thought they were. Others neither know nor care.  Friday has been and gone. A body lies in a tomb. Life is gone, with nothing new in its place. Saturday comes and Jesus is still dead. So much for him and his promises.

There was a period of death for Jesus. He did not just die and then automatically spring back to life, a gone-one-minute-back-the-next event more akin to something from a magician’s stage act. Part of Jesus’ Easter experience is death, the fullness of death, the absence of death, the unavoidable committing of himself into the hands of God as he falls into the place where all must go but from where none return.

What are we to make of the silent tomb? What are we to make of Easter Saturday, the day in between, when God is silent and Jesus is dead?

Because death is part of his followers’ Easter experience and our Easter experience too. And not just at Easter, although Easter Saturday is a reminder that there are times when it seems that God is absent; when it seems like nothing has changed, or can ever change; when things are most hopeless. And that time is often brought home to us in death, whether the thought, or reality, of our own or someone else’s. Sometimes we do find ourselves in the midst of Easter Saturday, in the midst of death, and though we may not wish to, it is a day that must be walked on the way to Resurrection Sunday.

Question to Consider
When you think of the time that Jesus spent in the grave, what do you think of? Why?

Prayer
Loving Father, sometimes you seem so far from me. But even in the darkness of death I know you are there, even if I cannot see or feel you. Give me strength to make it through my Easter Saturdays. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – He Is Not Here

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:1-7
“He is not here.” Four very simple words, nothing out of the ordinary about them. We have probably heard them many times, in many different contexts, usually based around situations when someone is not home when visited or not around when called up on the phone. For us, such usage implies that the visitor or caller simply has the wrong place; they came to or called the place they expected the person to be, the most likely place to find them. They just got it wrong. With a bit more information and a slight change of plan, contact can be made and the person reached.

But in this passage “He is not here” is a shocking, world-shaking, gut-wrenching thing to hear. It is inconceivable that Jesus could be anywhere else. He is dead, he is buried, the mourners themselves were part of the burial. There is nowhere else for him to be. His body is in the grave – this is the way of the dead.

Imagine how horrible that initial “He is not here” must have been to the grieving mourners come to anoint the corpse of Jesus. The body of their loved one gone? What has happened? What would you think if you went to visit the grave of a recently deceased friend or relative, only to be told at the cemetery gates “He/she is not here”? Has there been an accident? A landslide? The grave desecrated, the body stolen? Grave robbers? What has happened?

Question to Consider
How do you think the women were feeling on their way to the tomb? Why might “He is not here” obscure the angel’s next sentence “He is risen”?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the God of the impossible, the God of surprise, the God we sometimes lose sight of because we don’t expect to find you in the people and places you dwell. Help me look further and deeper to see those unexpected times and places where and when you are. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Living Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:1-3
This is Paul’s origin story, his story of the origin of the people of Jesus. This is where we come from, says Paul, and this is what the community is founded upon – the crucial, all-important bedrock that defines the community’s existence. And this momentous foundation, this glorious new thing that God has done, is just the most recent – and wholly decisive – moment in a much longer story, a story found in the scriptures of Israel, the very scriptures that help explain why this event is so important.

The foundation is Jesus himself, and the transforming event that opens this next chapter of the story is the resurrection. The resurrection is the key for Paul, that will help tell the struggling Corinthians (and us, and all other followers of Jesus) who they are and whereabouts in God’s great story they currently are.

The Corinthians are in danger of forgetting the story and their place in it. Throughout this letter Paul has been trying to get them to see where they fit in the story, how Jesus was Israel’s messiah, and that they (and us), as messiah-led resurrection people, have an important part to play in the way the story will unfold from this point on. You are the messiah’s people, he tells them, living in the power and promise of his resurrection. Don’t forget that. Take it on board. Live in the light and power of his resurrection every day and all the little things that are currently distracting you and tripping you up will suddenly become clear. The resurrection changes everything – if you will let it.

Question to Consider
How does the resurrection change the story for you?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for the resurrection of your son and what it means for us. Help me live each day in the power of the resurrection, offering myself to others in love, and inviting them to take their place in your story. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – This Is Real

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:4-11
The resurrection is an astonishing event to contemplate. It cuts against the grain of everything we know and experience as human beings. Death is final. There is no return. It is not the way of things for a human life to end, only to continue on afterwards.

But it happened. As incredible as it seemed at the time – and still seems now – it happened. This is something that Paul is at pains to point out to the Corinthians. He is passing on what he received, he is telling them exactly what was passed on to him, by the people who were there, who witnessed what had happened and reported what they saw, amongst whom – belatedly – he includes himself. All of them can corroborate what he is saying.

Paul is not some sort of lone ranger apostle out on his own, making up his own rules and his own Gospel. He is part of a community – one large community made of many scattered smaller ones – with a history and tradition of its own. A tradition that it seems many people were determined to question and undermine, especially when it came to the veracity of the resurrection.

So Paul tells the story again, and grounds the story in reality. The truth of the Christian story is not some nebulous, eternal truth wafting aimlessly and unfettered through the air. These are real events that happened, that were witnessed and reported.

Question to Consider
What do you think the disciples made of Jesus’ earlier statements about his resurrection? What is important about the fact that, at this point in the story, an explanation is still to come?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for all that you are and all you have done. Thank you for Easter and for your son. My words are inadequate – may my response be my life, given back to you in gratitude for your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – If No Resurrection, Then…

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
If the resurrection is not true, then all people are to be pitied. For if no resurrection, then this life – the here and now, this place, these bodies, this existence – is all there is. And therefore the only life that so many people have ever known and will ever know is a life of unremitting pain, poverty, anguish and loss with no hope of escape.

If no resurrection, then no chance for God to right wrongs and offer comfort to the oppressed and rejected, so many of whom are no longer here and therefore beyond any help that may be given here and now.

If no resurrection, then no judgement, which at first glance might seem somewhat appealing, but without judgement there is also no mercy and no justice either, as these things come together.

If no resurrection, then no promises of God can be believed – no promise of eternal life, no promise of new creation, no promise of all things put right under the sovereign lordship of the Creator God.

And we are to be pitied even more than all others. For if no resurrection, then all that we believe is founded upon a lie, and all that we preach, speak, act, live is founded upon the same lie. The resurrection is promise, is hope, the revelation of the heart of God’s plan for the whole of creation.

The empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, the risen body of Jesus, the wounds in his renewed flesh – the resurrection is real, it is true, and all that it signifies, entails, promises, is also real, is also true.

Question to Consider
How would your life be different without the reality of the resurrection? How does the resurrection play out in your daily life?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, thank you for the promise of the resurrection. Thank you that you are a God of promise, who offers hope and life for all people and all creation through your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 2

Readings for this week March 14 – 18
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

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Day 1  – Watch With Me

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:36-38
As we approach the culmination of the Passion, the act that will accomplish the redemption of the world, it is a moment of divine intervention, God’s act alone. And yet at the same moment Matthew paints a most poignant glimpse into the very humanness of Jesus as he faces going to the cross.

We have seen Jesus sad at various times throughout his life. We have sensed his frustrations, his anger, seen tension within his family, yet he has always remained the strong figure ready with a story, a word of encouragement or command, and always holding up the vision of the Kingdom of God. It was the disciples who had problems and questions; Jesus was the one who had the answers. Yet here in Gethsemane we see a man alone, struggling to face the horrors that are coming his way. And in his aloneness he asks his disciples to stay close. Taking the three closest to him a little further on he doesn’t even ask them to pray, only to “stay here, and keep watch with me.” Jesus turns to his Father, but he also needs his friends to sustain him at this moment of greatest need.

We may not have considered how Jesus, the Son of God, could have had such needs. Here we gain a little more understanding of the incarnation, God coming to us as a human being, vulnerable and needy. In our own vulnerability and need it is good to be able to call on others to wait and watch with us. Words aren’t always necessary or even desirable. It is the presence of others that comforts and strengthens us. Do not be afraid to be present in someone’s suffering because we fear not having the right words. Just being there can be gift enough.

Questions to Consider
Is it surprising that Jesus reveals his grief and aggitation to the disciples?

What might Jesus have hoped for from his disciples?

When has someone’s presence meant more than their words?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you shared your whole life with your friends. Help me share my life with a few that I trust, and also be willing to just be present and wait with those who need comfort and support, relying on the help of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – My Fear, Your Will

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:39
Jesus had embraced his mission to be obedient to his Father; his mission to reveal the love of the Father to a broken and rebellious world. Early in his ministry he had faced temptation in the wilderness, the option of taking what was rightfully his through power rather than through sacrifice and suffering. Now in Gethsemane, when he knows “the hour is at hand” for him to suffer and die, he again faces the temptation to reject this path. He falls to the ground in a posture of abject humility bringing his very real human fear and grief before his Father. “Jesus has demonstrated a complete confidence in his Father’s sovereign power and perfect will throughout his life, so at this moment of greatest temptation, he turns to his Father for guidance” Michael J Wilkins.

Here we have the supreme example of honesty and trustfulness in prayer. Jesus could be completely real with his Father because his relationship was secure. Do we realise that God offers us just such a relationship, where pretence and formality are not necessary? A relationship where our honest and raw emotions do not threaten God.

While the prospect of pain and death was dreadful, it was the prospect of separation from the Father that was the greater horror. In being the one who had no sin, being made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus faced an alienation he had never known. As we come to God in prayer it can be easy to fear an alienation, a gulf that seems insurmountable. In truth, there is no gulf, no alienation, for Jesus, through his death and resurrection has bridged the gap and has brought us near (Ephes 2: 15-22).

Questions to Consider
How important was knowing God’s will in Jesus’ ability to face the future?

How can we learn God’s will?

Having faith is not the same as pretending. Discuss the need for honesty when talking with God.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me come to you in honesty and humility, ready to share my feelings and fears. Help me pray with Jesus, “Your will be done”, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Watch and Wait

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:40-41
They couldn’t stay awake. They couldn’t wait and watch with Jesus. Take a few minutes to sit down with the disciples:

Its pitch dark. The only sound is the gentlest of breezes rustling the olive trees.

You draw your cloak around you and watch Jesus walk off through the trees.

Suddenly he falls to the ground and the silence is broken by deep sobs, like you’ve never heard before. This is your Master, your leader, but showing a vulnerability you’ve never seen in him before.

What are the questions that arise in your mind?

Do you feel helpless….scared….confused?

Did you think Jesus, the Son of God, could be so emotional?

Do you think Jesus has doubts about his mission?

Do you try to come up with solutions?

How do you try to pray?

What do you ask God to do?

What do you hold onto?   What do you let go of?

Why is waiting so difficult? What does it ask of us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, teach me how to wait with you. Show me what things I have to give up, and how I resist not being in control. Let my willingness to spend time being still with you be a sign that I am open to allowing you to work in my life, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 Day 4 – Learned Obedience

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26: 41-44
Jesus returns to his sleepy eyed disciples. Addressing Peter, The Message reads, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Jesus knew that while they were currently only tempted to sleep, very shortly the temptation will be to deny knowing him at all. Here he compares the human spirit and its aspirations with human nature that is impacted by sin. Willingness and weakness so often go hand in hand.

We all know the frustration of desiring to live by ideals and in harmony with God and others, but so often failing to meet our own good intentions let alone God’s standards of grace and forgiveness. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples, and us, that it is through the apparent simplicity of watching and praying that we are able to submit our own will and develop obedience to God’s will. Being still involves the very difficult act of surrender. Michael Wilkins writes, “Spiritual disciplines of watching and praying enable the spiritual heart to direct all aspects of a person’s human nature so that the entire person is obedient to God’s call.”

As Jesus prays alone for a second time, there is a conscious recognition that this last and greatest test, this cup, will not be taken away. Being attentive to his Father has produced an acceptance and recommitment, “your will be done.” Later in Hebrews we read that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” Heb 5:8. The disciples have not learned obedience – they are still sleepy.

Questions to Consider
Do I make time to just wait before God? What is difficult in doing this?

Who is in charge in prayer times?

When have times of suffering taught you valuable lessons?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for being our model, for your utter dependence on your Father, your willingness to surrender and be obedient even when that obedience led to suffering and death. Holy Spirit help me in waiting before God, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Divine Inevitability

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:45-46
In The Divine Comedy, the medieval poet Dante has his hero journey from Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. Along the way he visits the souls in Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. One of the characters encountered expresses her complete joy in the statement, “In His will is our peace.” It is a reflection of Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

This is also the lesson Matthew draws out in the final chapters of his gospel. Jesus’ mission has been carried out amidst duplicity and political manoeuvring. The crowds hail him as a miracle worker one moment, then deride and curse him the next. It appears that Jesus ministry is spiralling out of control. The religious elite plot to take his life, one of the twelve betrays him, the others deny him, and the path of humiliation and death seems inevitable. “Yet behind the scenes God holds the spiral firmly in control. The events will transpire tragically, but not hopelessly because divine inevitability controls the outcome” M J Wilkins.

What are the areas we face that seem to be spinning out of control? Are we tempted to judge things as hopeless, the way the world judges by appearance. Or can we exercise the eyes of faith and encourage ourselves by saying “divine inevitability controls the outcome.” Jesus did not deny the suffering that lay ahead for him. But he looked through it and beyond it, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” Heb 12:2b.

Despite a myriad of power plays and manipulations Jesus had unswerving confidence that ultimately God was in control. The sure lesson of Gethsemane is that we must follow the known will of God when we cannot see what is unknown. Peace is found not in having control of our circumstances, but by committing ourselves to the will of God. In His will is our peace.

Questions to Consider
What is the danger in leaning on our own understanding?

In what specific area do I need to “acknowledge God” today, trusting him to make the path ahead straight?

Prayer
Almighty God, I hand over all my circumstances to you today, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 1

Readings for this week March 7 – 11
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Easter 16 - Booklet Front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 1 – My Body Broken for You

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 22:14-20
What can be so often overlooked about the Last Supper is that it was a Passover meal. Paul didn’t just make this up; nor did Jesus. What Jesus did was take a pre-existing celebration and invest it with new meaning. Jesus and his disciples were following Jewish tradition which was in turn based on the biblical command to remember Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land.

Bread and wine were important elements in the traditional Passover meal. Jesus took these symbols of Israel’s rescue and added new meanings connected with his own approaching death – meanings that would not be fully revealed and understood by the disciples until his resurrection.

Jesus body, like the bread, was broken for us. The Passover bread was unleavened because it was made without yeast. Yeast needs time to work and in their necessary haste to leave Egypt the Israelites had no time to let their bread rise. Yeast is also a symbol of sin and corruption. It gets everywhere, spreading and growing all through the dough. Even the appearance of the unleavened bread would have been a reminder of Jesus’ broken body. As David Guzik explains, “The unleavened bread used at the Passover meal had the scorch-mark ‘stripes’ and holes from baking that looked like ‘pierce’ marks. In the same way, the body of Jesus was broken for us. He was without sin (as the bread had no leaven), and his body bore stripes and was pierced (as the bread appeared to be).”

Question to Consider
What does the Lord’s Supper mean to you? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, as we enter the Lent period before Easter, help me focus upon you and the sacrifice of your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A New Covenant

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (verse 25). Many people seem to think the new covenant completely obliterates the memory of the old covenant, as if the old covenant was nothing more than a bad dream that should never have happened. But in the same way that the Eucharistic meal springs forth from the Passover celebration, the old covenant is the seedbed for the new. God made a covenant with Israel, blessing them with his benevolence and the gift of the Law. They were to be his people and a light to the nations, the beginning of his solution to the plight of a world weighed down by sin and corruption. Even though they failed in this rescue mission, from within their midst came the One who would save the world from destruction, reconcile the world and its people to its Creator, and teach God’s people how to be true agents of his love and grace.

Through the actions of Jesus, this new covenant was enacted from within the story and symbols of the old. Through the actions of Jesus the elements of the Passover were transformed into the communion celebration and remembrance of his sacrifice. One of the cups used in the Passover meal was the cup of redemption. This is the cup Jesus refers to, taking this idea of redemption from Egyptian enslavement and forging a new covenant, made in and confirmed by his blood, between God and his people – his people now redefined by their allegiance to Jesus. This relationship established through the old covenant is transformed and broadened through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

Question to Consider
What is your understanding of the old covenant and the new covenant?

Prayer
Father God, thank you for becoming like us, and for going all the way and dying like us too. Thank you that there is nothing that we can experience that you have not also experienced. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Different View

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 27:46
In the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, one of the main characters focused upon during the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, was his mother Mary. As Jesus was tried, beaten and crucified his mother, at various times, cleaning up the blood shed during his whipping, following in his wake as he was lead to Golgotha, grieving for him each step of the way, and finally cradling his body after he had been taken down from the cross.

This focus on Jesus’ mother was not only heart-rending in and of itself – the pain and suffering of a mother helplessly witnessing the torture and humiliation of her child, her first born, her promise – but such parental focus also served as a powerful analogue for God the Father’s view of the suffering of the Son.

Through the representation of the pain and anguish and loss experienced by Mary the mother, the viewer is invited to imagine the loss and anguish experienced by the Father. Through the eyes of Mary we are opened up to the experience of God the Father. What is God the Father feeling as he looks upon Jesus on the cross, bleeding, hurting, dying? What is he thinking as the blood soaks the hillside?

“Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries. Jesus feels alone and abandoned. Does the powerlessness of Mary to do anything match the abandonment that Jesus feels from his Father? Or does the presence of Mary highlight the difference: God is absent but she is there; Jesus cannot feel the Father’s presence any more, but he can see his Mother there, and as the Gospel of John records (19:26-27) even looks to secure her care for after his death.

Question to Consider
What do you think God the Father experiences during the crucifixion?

Prayer
Almighty God, your ways are often inscrutable to us but your identification with us is there for all to see. Thank you for being ‘God with us’. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Bearing the Scars

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 2:24-25
There was nothing special about the physical characteristics of the death of Jesus. Crucifixion was not a special method of execution; it was the standard Roman way of killing any condemned criminals, not just would-be Messiahs. And the Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, they merely perfected it as a method of torture and capital punishment.

There were so many ways you could die on a cross: acute shock from blood loss; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack; becoming too exhausted to breathe; asphyxiation; or heart failure leading to cardiac rupture. Nails were driven through nerves, insects would land on open wounds and eyes. And while being beaten and whipped was not a necessary part of the procedure, the extra punishment and torture inflicted by the soldiers would have caused excruciating pain even if you weren’t nailed to a cross afterwards, providing ample opportunity for wounds to tear and reopen.

So when Jesus said “This is my body, broken for you” to his disciples at their final meal together, it was perhaps somewhat of an understatement. Almost no part of his body would have free of the trauma of torture. His flesh would have been a mess of bruised and lacerated flesh, sliced muscle, snapped tendons and ligaments, and leaking blood. The pain would have been unbearable. Yet he bore the pain, bore the punishment and the wounds so that, as 1 Peter 2:24 says, “we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Question to Consider
How have you experienced the healing power of the sacrifice of Jesus in your life? How has it made a difference for you?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, I am humbled before such love, it is almost incomprehensible that you would do this. All I can do is kneel before you and praise your name, and your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Easter Questions

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Spend some time meditating on a question (or questions) that may have special importance for you at this time.

What kind of universe – and what kind of God – requires the torture and sacrifice of an innocent man in order to be reconciled to its Creator?

What kind of God would take on human form in order to suffer our punishment in our place?

If you were standing with Jesus at the foot of the cross just as he was about to be crucified, what would you say to him?

Put yourself in the disciples’ place. What would be going through your mind after Jesus’ arrest?

What did God give up for you? What did you give up for God?

What will Lent look like for you this Easter and why?

What does the broken body of Jesus say to those today living with broken bodies, and with the broken bodies of others?

‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ Is this true for you?

What makes saying ‘But not my will but yours be done’ so hard for you?

What do the scars of Jesus mean to you?

Jesus still bore wounds post-resurrection. What is the significance of this?

Prayer
Loving Father, sometimes you seem so absent, so far from me and so unable to help me in my time of struggle. But even in the darkness I know you are there, even if I cannot see or feel you. Give me strength to make it through the times when I feel your absence. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 21 – 22

Readings for this week February 29 – March 4
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1  – Approaching the End

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 21:1-8
We are coming to the end, the culmination of all John’s visions. Yet is it really correct to call it an end? Speaking of the end of history C.S. Lewis is often quoted from The Last Battle saying “all their adventures…had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the great story…” Less well known is his book Voyage to Venus in which the hero asks Tor the King about the end. “The end?” he said, “Who spoke of an end?…Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall not be far from the beginning of all things.” And Ransom said, “But what you call the beginning, we are accustomed to call the last things.” “I do not call it a beginning,” said Tor the King. “It is but a wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin…Or as a man setting foot on an island may make a false step. He steadies himself and, after that, his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?”

John is tasked with describing the indescribable. Imagine the people of an isolated tribe, oblivious to technology, trying to describe a computer or a cell phone or an aeroplane. The words at their disposal would be inadequate. What is central to all this description, is that this beautiful new city, the symbol for the people of God, is to be God’s dwelling place. From way back in Exodus 24 God’s intention and desire was to dwell with his people. In the coming of Jesus we talk about the “incarnation” – God dwelling in human form. Here in Revelation what God did in Jesus (incarnation) he is doing on a cosmic scale. We do not go to be with God; rather God comes to be with us. In one of the most beautiful and tender passages of scripture, it is God himself who will wipe away every tear. Death, mourning, crying and pain are removed and God himself says, “I am making everything new!”

Questions to Consider
Do I fear an end rather than expectantly look for a beginning?

What would “God dwelling with us” mean?

Prayer
Loving Father, fill my heart with hopeful expectation, and remove any anxious fear of the future. Help me catch the joy and excitement of John’s vision, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – A Cinderella Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God

Scripture Reading – Revelation 21:9-27
John goes on to describe this glorious city that comes down from heaven. Its dimensions form a perfect cube, so it is clearly “constructing a symbolic universe, not an architect’s design” NT Wright. It would be about the size of the moon, or roughly the same square area as the Roman Empire in John’s time. It is the shape of the Holy of Holies in the temple. But as John notes there is no temple in this city, for the whole city has become the dwelling place of God.

This city is the Bride of Christ, the people of God. That it comes from heaven, complete and holy, tells us that it is never something humans can construct, but is God’s work, always his gift of grace and love. It is in fact something of a Cinderella story – the slave girl turned bride. And while it is a picture of our ultimate future, it also peeps through into our present reality. For if Jesus is the centre of this new reality, and Jesus is not merely a future reality, then something of the city of God, the people God loves and who become the spotless bride of Christ, can be glimpsed now. How does this happen? Through our worship and our witness – two of the main themes that thread right through the book of Revelation.

There is hint here also that the redemption God is bringing about is not merely for human ‘souls’ alone. He writes “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.” There is a redeeming of human civilization, accomplishments and creativity. This should encourage us to value our everyday work. This too can be done for God and his glory (Col 3:22-24).

Questions to Consider
How does knowing that the completion and perfection of the church, the people of God, is God’s work, encourage us?

Why is there such an emphasis on worship and witness throughout this book?

Will human art and culture be part of eternity? Discuss.

Prayer
Holy God, let me be inspired with something of how you view your people. Help me open myself to your work of redemption and cleansing. Teach me to catch a glimpse of your glorious future here and now, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Healing the Nations

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:1-5
 This great story began with a man and a woman in a garden. A river flowed out from the garden and in the middle of it was the Tree of Life. Disobedience and self-will saw the couple banished from the garden, and denied access to the Tree of Life. Here at the end, we stand in a garden city with a mighty river flowing from the throne of God. Countless multitudes inhabit the city and along the banks of the river stands the Tree of Life producing an unending crop of fruit, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Again God’s victory stretches beyond just personal salvation for the individual. The gates of the city open to north, south, east and west – open to all people. This not a static picture, there is still work to be done. God accomplishes an ethnic reconciliation. The leaves are to bring healing, so that Revelation 21-22 not only answers the problem of Genesis 3, but also those of Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel.

“The whole of Christian theology is based on the goodness of creation, yet the goodness of creation consists partly in this, that it points beyond itself to the new creation. It isn’t the case that the new creation was an afterthought, a Plan B once the first creation had gone so badly wrong. Human sin has meant that God’s eventual design has had to be arrived at by a long, winding and often tear-stained and blood-spattered route, the most important tears and blood being those of God himself, in the person of the Lamb. But, as with the triumphant conclusion of Exodus, so with Revelation, the goal is achieved by the power of sheer mercy and grace, the mercy and grace through which creation is not abolished but fulfilled, not thrown away and replaced but renewed from top to bottom” NT Wright.

Questions to Consider
Why does Revelation picture a garden city, not just a return to a garden? What does a city imply?

Pray for Christians involved in working towards peace among the nations.

Prayer
Father, I praise and worship you as I see the promises within this book that you will indeed redeem this world and bring healing and peace among people. May your glory be seen as we commit ourselves to the vision of your kingdom, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)  


Day 4 – Invitation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:6-11
The hope of Israel, the cry of the prophets, had been for Yahweh to come to them. Here at the conclusion of John’s Revelation God himself speaks, “Look, I am coming soon!” There is urgency in this book. There is promise and warning and blessing for those who keep hold of these words. As we have seen, God’s intention is to dwell with his people. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” Habakkuk 2:14. NT Wright comments, “This is the goal towards which so much of scripture is pointing, a goal forgotten by those who imagine that the whole aim is to leave earth behind and go to heaven instead.”

John ends with an invitation to come to Jesus. Why?

1.    This message is true. Rightly understood the message of Revelation makes sense of John’s world, and of ours. The angel assures John that these words are trustworthy and true.

2.    He is coming back. Peter wrote to encourage the young church, “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come…They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”…But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance….But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3: 3-4, 8-9,13.

3.    Jesus alone deserves our worship. The angel tells John that he is only a fellow servant. The apostles would not accept adulation from their hearers (Acts 10:26). Neither Buddha nor Mohammed, nor any great spiritual teacher has accepted worship. We should come to Jesus for he alone deserves our worship.

Question to Consider
Do I need to come to Jesus again, acknowledging who he is?

Prayer
Come Lord Jesus, embolden me to share the truth of your gospel, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – The Spirit Says “Come!”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:12-21
Two more reasons to answer the invitation to come to Jesus:

4.   He will judge the earth. Jesus has been appointed as judge, and he carries a reward. There seems to be a strange comment about those doing wrong to continue and those doing right to continue. This isn’t an exhortation to keep doing wrong, but rather carries the sense of resignation, “Let it be so…” People will make choices, but there are severe consequences.

5.   Jesus cleanses from sin. It is as if each of us has a robe that reflects the choices we have made. No earthly detergent or self effort can remove the stains of sin; only Jesus’ own blood can make us clean and righteous before God. And in the end those excluded from the company of God’s people have done so by their own decision. “…it is not God who excludes anyone. We exclude ourselves if we choose a lifestyle contrary to the values of the kingdom of God” M Robertson.

In case we focus only on the Father and Son, it is the Spirit who makes the final invitation. How do we see this play out in our lives?

1.   We sin and feel miserable. It is the Spirit gently prompting us to come to Jesus to be made new.

2.   An inner stirring or aspiration that there must be more to life. It is the Spirit wooing us to accept all the Father has graciously offered.

3.   People meet Christians and sense that there is something different about them that they don’t have. It is the Spirit that attracts others (2 Cor 3:14-15).

Finally, there is a warning not to tamper with the message revealed in this book. Coming to Jesus is not a multiple choice package. We cannot pick the parts we like and leave those we find difficult. There is great sacrifice and suffering, cost and endurance will be required, but there is ultimately great reward and blessing. Finally, there is comfort and joy and communion with the God who loves us with an undying ferocious love that will be for all eternity.

““Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Question to Consider
How have you experienced the invitation of the Holy Spirit?

Prayer
Almighty God, I commit myself to you again today. Continue to draw me to yourself through your Holy Spirit. In the name of your Son. Come Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 19 – 20

Readings for this week February 22 – 26
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

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Day 1 – The Rider on the White Horse

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:11-16
We now start to approach the climax of the book of Revelation, as evidenced by the appearance of the rider on the white horse – and there’s no mistaking who this rider is. It is Jesus the Lord: “Faithful and True”, Word of God”, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”; all these magnificent names testify to the character of Jesus, at the same time as hinting at the fact no name can do him justice. He is beyond compare, beyond all that our thoughts and language can express.

Jesus is described as dressed for battle as he takes the field against the four horseman of the apocalypse. This is the moment when the final countdown to the consummation of the victory won by the Lamb begins. We have seen over the last couple of weeks that the victory has already been won. But now John’s vision is moving, swiftly and irrevocably, towards the ultimate climax, when Satan, and evil, and sin and all that would oppose God and spoil his creation will be finally and ultimately disposed of. The power of the beast is running rampant in the world, but now the full power and sovereignty of God – reflected in the names of Jesus – will be unleashed, cleansing and purifying creation as prelude to all things being made new.

As has been the case all along, we have been called to take sides in this struggle, to be engaged with Jesus, side by side with him on the ‘battlefields’ of this world – his world – as he combats the powers and principalities that devastate his earth, flout his rule, and oppress the people he loves. Jesus rides out, and calls us to go with him.

Question to Consider
Read again the description of Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16. How do you reconcile this with the picture of Jesus we find in the gospels?

Prayer
Lord God, give me the strength and courage to stand with you in the fight against all that opposes you. No matter the outcome for me, I know that ultimately the victory is yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Battle Belongs to the Lord

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:17-21
The battle belongs to the Lord; the result, despite what many may think, is a foregone conclusion. Today’s reading clearly shows us this. The armies of the beast and the false prophet no doubt think they have come together of their own volition in order to wipe out God’s people and even defeat God himself. But they are wrong. God is ultimately in control and has summoned them to battle in order to defeat them. The outcome is certain.

In verses 17 and 18 an angel summons all the birds of the air to prepare to come and feast on the flesh of all those who dared to take the field of battle in opposition to Jesus. This particular supper – “the great supper of God” as the angel calls is – is in direct contrast to the wedding supper of the lamb mentioned earlier in the chapter (verse 9). The earlier feast is a magnificent celebration; this one is carnage. The earlier feast was symbolic of the final consummation of the Creator God’s reconciliation with all creation, God’s glorious, gracious sharing of himself with his people. This battlefield feast symbolises the crushing destruction and utter annihilation of all that defies and opposes God.

The forces of evil do not – and cannot – win. The beast, who right throughout human history has demanded and coerced people to give up their allegiance to God, and the false prophet, who has deliberately deceived people and led them astray with lies, are both thrown into the fire. All are defeated by the majestic, all-conquering rider on the white horse, who has always fought against the forces that oppress, destroy and devour. All the powers of evil and darkness are destroyed.

Question to Consider
What has been your experience of hearing teaching on Biblical passages of judgement such as this one?

Prayer
Almighty God, the victory is yours. Thank you for your triumph, thank you for your victory over evil, thank you that we do not have to suffer forever under the weight of those powers who oppose you. In the name of Jesus in whom we have the victory, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Reigning for a Thousand Years

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:1-6
This passage is quite popular with a lot of people who have (unfortunately) misinterpreted it. The thought of reigning in power over all the earth with Jesus for a thousand years is very attractive to many people: Jesus will return and will reign, with some of his followers, for 1,000 years. Others, even attempting to view it symbolically, see the thousand years as representing the reign of the church (but are then hard pressed to say exactly what this means or what it will look like). It’s just a shame that this is not what John is saying here. (Vision language, remember?) This is the only passage in all of scripture that mentions this ‘millennium’. Though that doesn’t dilute its standing as inspired scripture, it should give us pause in hanging an entire view of the future on this one verse (especially without seeing how it matches up with (and is interpreted by) other parts of scripture).

John has used numbers symbolically throughout this book. While it is not at all strange that he has included a nice round number like 1,000, it would be strange if he suddenly wanted us to interpret it literally, in contrast to all the other numbers he had previously used for their symbolic value.

At this point in the vision, an exact, itemised, inarguable interpretation of this passage is probably beyond us (certainly for a one page reading!). However we can definitely hold on to the central points that John has made crystal clear for us, the victory won by the lamb and the call to us to share in this victory. We do this by faith, even in the face of suffering because God will ultimately act to bring all things to a good end.

Questions to Consider
Verse 3 talks about the devil being set free for a short time at the end of the age. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. Do you think this is what Paul is talking about here? What do you understand by the devil ‘being set free’?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me be an agent of your love. Help others see in me the love you have for them, and hear of the ultimate reconciliation of all creation that you will bring about. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – One Final (Useless) Fling

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:7-10
Just when we thought it was all over. Just when we thought there was nothing more to do except break out the glasses and crack open the champagne. The forces of darkness were defeated and Christ was reigning. And we all lived happily ever after, right?

Not quite. This is the final onslaught of the forces of evil, when Satan rises up one last time to confront and deceive the nations of the world, in one last desperate throw of the dice. He was bound for a thousand years (the period of Christ’s reign), but now he is free to wage war against God and attempt to lead the people of the world astray one last time.

But as we have already seen, he cannot win. With all that has gone before, there is no other outcome possible. He is soundly defeated and joins all the other forces of evil and sin and darkness in the lake of fire.

And one of the key things that this entire passage of scripture shows us is that his defeat is brought by God. It is God’s doing, God’s intervention that accomplishes the final defeat of Satan. There is nothing accidental about it; it is not the result of human endeavour or ‘historical inevitability’, or any other force or event. God does it. He makes good on his promises. The evil that had opposed him and sought to ruin his creation and enslave his people is stopped in its tracks, defeated, judged, and destroyed. Their annihilation – and God’s victory – is absolute.

Question to Consider
Some people seem to understand spiritual warfare as a kind of dualism, an equal conflict between the forces of good and evil. What does this passage say about that?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for your promise of the absolute defeat of evil. Help me remember the ultimate victory won on the cross by Jesus, and one day to be finally consummated when the Kingdom comes in all its glory and completeness. Help me remember this vision when it seems so far away in the circumstances of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Death of Death and the Book of Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:11-15
Judgement awaits us all. Books will be opened, records will be perused, accounts tallied up and scales weighed. What each person has made of their life and done with their time will be assessed. Even though this scenario often fills people with dread, for those who belong to Jesus it need not – it should not – be a vision that inspires fear and trembling. Because one of the books that will be opened will be the book of Life, where the names of those who belong to Jesus, who were steadfast through suffering, and who remained loyal to his call, are to be found.

It is the book of Life. Amongst the judgement of people described in this passage is also the judgement and final punishment of death itself. In his poem Death, be not proud, John Donne ends with the line, “And death shall be no more; Death, though wilt die.” It may seem strange, even contradictory, to talk of death dying, but that is exactly what is promised here. Paul talks about it too, in 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death, while something that happens to us all and therefore something that is an inevitable part of life as we live it now, is not to be accepted as the final end, the last result, or our final destination. Death itself has been judged and found to be utterly powerless in the face of God’s love. Death is an enemy that Christ has defeated. In his gospel, John records Jesus saying “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

Question to Consider

How does the thought of the judgement of all things make you feel? What is the relationship between judgement and mercy?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you that death is not the final word, that in you we will be resurrected into eternal life with you. Your love and grace know no bounds and cannot be defeated. Thank you for your faithfulness to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 

Revelation 17 – 19

Readings for this week February 8 – 12
Click here for a PDF of this week’s readings.

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Day 1  – Babylon the Great

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 17:1-8
John is telling a story of two cities: Jerusalem and Babylon, the bride and the prostitute. Babylon is symbolic of captivity; an alien place that contradicts all the values of God’s kingdom. But why the image of a prostitute? The whole book centres on the Creator and his creation, coming to fulfilment in the picture of Christ as the Lamb with his bride, a marriage of loyalty and loving faithfulness. Throughout the Old Testament Israel is pictured as a bride; most poignantly in the sad story of the prophet Hosea, grieving over, and restoring his unfaithful wife. This is likely the background imagery that John draws on. So, Babylon, the whore, is the antithesis, an extreme contrast to what God intended for humanity. A parody of a cherished bride, so near the truth and yet so very far from the reality, a relationship distorted and corrupted.

The Roman world, like all imperial systems, thrived on sexual irregularity. John “sees this behaviour, and the corruption of God’s ideal of male-female marriage, as an accurate telltale sign of the corruption of the human heart which, springing from the worship of idols, can only be cured by the heart-changing operation which results in worshipping the true God” NT Wright. The outward appearance of the woman is very fine, dressed with gold and precious stones, but the relationship is all wrong. She sits on a beast which symbolises any state which denies humans freedom, and demands the allegiance which belongs to God alone. This ‘beast’ comes and goes, as empires rise and fall and new tyrants appear to repress people in new ways. In John’s time Rome was the clear and present danger symbolised as Babylon. We need eyes to see where the power of the beast is manifest in our own time.

Questions to Consider
So much of John’s language focusses on relationships. What does this tell us about God’s priorities and desires for us?

Prayer
Holy God, help me look through the confusing details in John’s vision and catch your heartbeat that longs for true relationship with us. I pray for the strength to not settle for a pseudo spirituality, or surface commitment, but for careful discernment to see where my allegiance is, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 

Day 2  – Contour Lines

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 17:9-18
Anyone who likes looking at maps knows about contour lines, which indicate valleys and hills and the steepness of slopes. But none of us go looking for these lines as we walk the countryside; we recognise that they are merely symbols to help depict reality. John’s symbolism is somewhat like contour lines. He speaks of 7 hills, which could well represent Rome which was perched on 7 hills. But in the next breath he says they are 7 kings. We see a fluid use of symbol that should discourage us from trying to pinpoint 7 actual kings or emperors. More likely they stand for a completeness or totality of the political powers that align themselves with the beast, coming and going as part of the present human experience. Ten more kings are mentioned which should be a clue that John’s intention is not that we puzzle our way through a specific list. They are, however, ultimately God’s instruments as evil turns on itself and self destructs.

What is crucial to see in this passage is that two dangers work together against God’s people. The beast stifles freedom and represses people, but the prostitute seduces, tempting and drawing people away from God. And what seduces? Money, sex and power. For over 40 years in Eastern Europe Christians were repressed, their liberties denied. In the West Christians gave thanks for freedom from such persecution. Yet tragically much of the West has been seduced by wealth and power and personal comfort. Materialistic empires promise luxury, but deliver slavery. John is warning of two very different threats, both of which may materialize at different times and in different guises.

Question to Consider
How do we read the contour lines of our society? Are we even looking?

What is the danger in trying to name specific people/organisations/nations to match the images used in revelation?

Do I fear persecution but underestimate seduction?

Prayer
Eternal Father, I worship you as the one true God, who was and who is and who is to come. Challenge me through this difficult book to take seriously the dangers of aligning myself too closely with the world’s values. Open my eyes Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 

 Day 3  – Come Out!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 18:1-8
In Genesis 11 we read of the people who built a great tower to their own glory. But God confused the languages, and Babel was left to crumble and fall. Here in Revelation 18 is the lament over the ultimate fall of Babylon the Great. Once again the pinnacle of human achievement comes to nothing when it defies God and goes its own way. What of our own economic and political systems? Any system that does not reflect his justice and fairness, God will ultimately overthrow. “Human arrogance and oppression, and the wanton luxury and vice to which they lead, will not have the last word. God will have the last word, and creation itself will hear this word as a word of freedom, a sigh of relief, a flood of glorious light (verse1) let in upon a darkened dungeon” NT Wright.

We should note that vengeance is not brought about by God’s people, for vengeance is far too dangerous a weapon to be handled by mere humans. This is God’s work, and the tragic end of empire is only what it has brought upon itself.

“Come out of her, my people” is the insistent cry from heaven. This echoes the cry of the prophets to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon when the time of deliverance came. But how do we remove ourself from a system that completely surrounds us all the time? “We do so by not adopting its values – and the values of Babylon are money, sex and power” M Robertson.

Question to Consider
How do you respond to some Christians who opt to literally and physically remove themselves from the world system, living isolated lives?

In what practical ways might we be in the world but not of the world (John 17)?

What is the biggest challenge for you in identifying and avoiding the unhealthy values of our society?

Prayer
Father, teach my heart to value what you value, and to love what you love. May the way in which I live speak to those around me as loudly as the words I use, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)   


Day 4 – Cry Freedom

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 18:9-24
There is a film out in theatres at the moment called The Big Short. It tells the shocking story of the 2008 global financial crisis triggered by banking scandals and collapse in America. Millionaires became paupers overnight, some 8 million lost jobs, and the reverberations were felt around the world. Few saw it coming, few were left unaffected. But this is nothing compared to the crisis pictured in this passage. Systems once relied upon are suddenly gone. All that was once luxury, pomp and splendour is turned to smoke and ashes. John describes the fine commodities brought from the ends of the earth – no one is unaffected. But hidden amongst the despair of kings, merchants and traders, among the ruins of luxury goods are human bodies v13. Slavery was how the Roman Empire worked; buying, selling, abuse of human beings as just one more commodity. For when you worship idols, they will demand a sacrifice. Slavery was the grim reality of John’s time; it remains a grim reality in our own.

However, John believed in a God who set slaves free. Mirroring the language of Exodus he writes of Jesus, saying, “and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” 5: 9. This is cause to rejoice v20. In the most revolutionary message the world has ever heard, “God has taken sides with the victims of Babylon – the persecuted, the weak, the poor, the exploited and the abused” M Robertson. This is the glorious triumph of Revelation. The day is coming when God will respond to the cries of the oppressed. In the meantime his people are called to stand alongside all who are exploited by the power and values of Babylon.

Questions to Consider
In what ways is slavery clearly seen and in what ways subtly hidden today?

In our community who needs people to stand alongside them?

Prayer
Almighty God, we long for the day when all evil and injustice is banished. Thank you that you are the righteous judge and you will bring justice on this earth. Help us as a faith community to be people who champion the cause of right, and are prepared to stand with those who are disadvantaged and oppressed. In your glorious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – O Happy Day

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:1-10
With a shout of Hallelujah! we reach the climax of the great story, the moment that all history has been heading towards. The image of marriage between God and his people is threaded right through the scriptures. It is framed by the ancient Jewish wedding customs, which helps us understand God’s intentions.

Firstly a betrothal is announced. This is more binding than our modern day ‘engagement’. Then the bride price is paid, as is still the case in many cultures today. On the day of the wedding the groom goes to the bride’s home, without announcing the exact time of his arrival. Lastly lavish festivities celebrate the marriage. These can go on for many days. Can we see the pattern in scripture? The people of Israel “wooed in the wilderness, married at Sinai, unfaithful for many generations and eventually cast away, but then wooed and won all over again in a covenant renewal that would result in the renewal of the whole creation” NT Wright. The bride price?

“From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride.

With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.”

The bridegroom’s arrival? Jesus’ return, while expected, is at an unknown time. But then what a celebration! It will go on and on, and everyone is invited. Again a fluid imagery pictures us as Jesus’ bride but also the guests at the wedding. The invitation is an act of grace alone. The ‘fine linen’ fit to be worn for a wedding represents the righteous acts of God’s people. Yet these also are given as gifts of God’s grace. Jesus spoke of a wedding and the need for appropriate clothing (Matt 22). We cannot go on our own terms. It is only God’s gracious provision that invites, cleanses, clothes and embraces us at his great victory and celebration.

“Every virtue we possess and every victory won.

And every thought of holiness are his alone.”

John rightly falls to his feet in worship. Yet even here he is in danger of idolatry, for he is tempted to worship the messenger (the angel) and miss the message. The final message, both warning and invitation is “Worship God!”

Question to Consider
Do I suffer from the worry that I haven’t “done enough”? Spend some time with verse 6-8. Ponder God’s generous gifts to us.

Prayer
Almighty God, I worship you today. Yours is the glory and power, and you reign supreme. Come Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 11-15

Readings for this week February 8 – 12
Click here for a PDF of this week’s readings.

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Day 1 – The Woman and the Dragon

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 11:19-12:18
One of the problems people sometimes have with the book of Revelation is working out who is who; working out whom or what is being represented by a particular symbol or character. Here we meet two of the central figures of the remainder of the book: the woman and the dragon. And thankfully, John gives us a clue as to who they are.
Verse 5 says that the child born to the woman will “rule the nations with a rod of iron”. This references Psalm 2 which, as we saw in Rev 11, John is using to refer to Jesus himself. So does that make the woman Mary, the mother of Jesus? No, it doesn’t quite work as literally as that. The figure of the woman symbolises a couple of predecessors from the Old Testament. The first is Israel herself, God’s people, forever struggling to stay loyal to God, to bring forth his plan for the world, the people from whom the Messiah will arise. The second figure is possibly that of Eve, the mother of the entire human race, from whom will come the seed who will “crush” the serpent’s head (the Messiah again).
We will learn more about the dragon later on. But we have seen enough in this short passage to note that the dragon is a powerful heavenly being determined to wage war on the woman and her children. And yet, as is proclaimed in verses 10-12, the dragon has been cast down, defeated, vanquished. John wants his audience to know where they stand in the cosmic drama: that they are to celebrate and live the victory that has already been won. Though the dragon still rages and terrifies, and though more persecution will come, the people of God, through their Lord Jesus, can be assured of the victory.

Question to Consider
How do we live the reality of God’s victory in the midst of persecution and suffering? How do we support those being especially heavily oppressed?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you that in you we already have the victory. Help me live in the light of that victory in all I do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2 – The Power of the Beast

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 13:1-10
It was obvious to the early Christians that the beast of their day was Rome – Rome, whose power and wealth were visible everywhere, whose armies appeared invincible, and whose emperors were now demanding to be worshiped as Gods. But the beast was not only Rome.  In John’s time, Rome was only the most current – and powerful – manifestation of the beast’s power. There had been others and would be others again in the future, as the subsequent tide of history has shown. The 20th century itself has seen many appalling manifestations of the power of the beast. What 21st century examples do we see now?
Many people expend a lot of time and effort trying to work out exactly which governments and rulers are represented by the heads and crowns of the beast, as if such identification will give them a detailed road map of future events. But this is to miss the point.
The power of the beast has the potential to arise anywhere, not because governments of any and all forms are evil, but because they have the potential to fall into evil, to try and usurp the power and rule what is God’s alone. God-given government can claim God’s rule for itself and whenever it does so what is manifested is the power of the beast. Christians must be wary of this. When governments begin claiming for themselves what is rightfully God’s – when the beast demands to be ‘worshipped’ – Christians must resist the power of the beast, by looking to Jesus as the preeminent example of non-violent resistance to the beast and all forms of its coercive power.

Question to Consider
What are the subtle ways the power of the beast is visible in our world today? How can we stay alert to it?

Prayer
Lord God, help me be alert to the power of the beast, and the way in which the forces of this world try and pull us away from you. Give me wisdom to see and strength to resist. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3 – The False Prophet

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 13:11-18

Now there is another beast, like the first beast but in service to it. This second beast is the false prophet – false in that while he looks like a lamb, he sounds like a dragon. His purpose is to divert people’s devotion away from God towards the state – towards the first beast. Many people seem intent on trying to identify this false prophet with a particular individual but, remembering the symbolic language of vision, the false prophet represents any ideology or religion that can divert worship away from God.
The message of encouragement that John’s message brings can also be diluted by the popular myths and misconceptions that swirl around the idea of the mark of the beast and the number 666. To bear the mark of someone simply means to belong to them. The false prophet is trying to lure people away from God, and this to mark them as belonging to and serving the beast, rather than allowing them to bear the mark (or seal, remember chapter 7:3?) of God. The number 666 is representative of this false mark. It is a symbol, a human symbol falling short of the perfect holy number 7 which represents the Spirit, and multiplied many times to show the seemingly ubiquitous nature of evil.
This passage speaks powerfully, to those living under repressive regimes and murderous tyrants, of the power and majesty of God, who has not – and will not – abandon them. But it also speaks to those in the West, who labour under the power of the insidious presence of greed, consumerism, hedonism and other forces that try to pull our focus away from God.

Question to Consider
What are the false ideologies that divert our attention away from God? How do they do this? Why are they so powerful? How do we resist them?

Prayer
Almighty God, help me “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 4 – With Every Breath

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 14:1-13
There is never any reason for God’s people to cease preaching the gospel, no matter what the circumstances. Many people see Jesus as a sort of superhero who will fly down from heaven and rescue us from the evils of this world, taking us back to paradise while the earth burns. It is not surprising that such a mentality leads these people to keep quiet, keep their heads down and mouths shut while hiding in wait for Jesus. Yes, as we have read many times so far, God will rescue his people. His victory – and his people’s salvation – is assured. But it will come in the midst of hardship and suffering, amidst terrible persecution.
Yet even in these times of trial and tribulation, we are still to preach the gospel. We are still to share the love of God for his creation and testify to God’s unquenchable desire for all people to return to him. John intends the loud voice of the angel to represent the preaching of the gospel, the faithful witness of those who are being persecuted.
The beautiful vision of worship we see in verses 1-5 will be a part of the new reality of God’s redeemed and restored creation at the consummation of all things. But we are not to shelter in our bunkers (churches), averting our eyes from the world around us while waiting for Jesus to return and rescue us. The gospel is to be preached, his love is to be shared with every breath, until our dying breath.

Question to Consider
Why is sharing the gospel in times of persecution so important? What happens if we don’t?

Prayer
Lord God, may I never be far from your love, and may your love never be far from my lips. In all things, at all times, may I share your love with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5 – Two Harvests

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 14:14-20
Today we see two pictures of two very different harvests – at least, two very different harvests when taken from the point of view of what is being harvested. The first harvest of wheat is described in fairly normal terms: the harvest is ready and so is reaped. Harvest time would naturally be a time of great celebration for the people. This all seems perfectly normal.
Until we get to the second harvest, which is not so pleasant. Grapes are harvested and poured into the winepress but what pours from the press in a vast flowing tide is not wine, but blood, stretching in a river several hundred kilometres long. Is this God’s righteous punishment of the nations? Is he finally destroying those who oppress his people? Well, no. Vines and grapes and wine are often used in scripture as an image for Israel, for the people of God. This is a further image of persecution and suffering. Hence why the winepress was trodden outside the city. If this was God’s judgement against the rebellious nations, we would perhaps expect the press to have been at the heart of the city. But the wine-pressing takes place outside the city. Think of Jesus, crucified outside the city, or Stephen, dragged outside the city to be stoned to death.
God’s time will come. He will bring his people safely home. The evil and rebellion of his creation will be transformed into praise. Though there will be much pain and suffering, God will still triumph and bring his people through all trials to salvation. Though the time is yet to come, this message is one of hope and encouragement to all those who currently suffer. Our God will prevail and his people will be rescued and vindicated.

Question to Consider
What do the two pictures of the harvest mean to you?

Prayer
Loving Father, you suffered so that our sufferings might be like yours. Help us remember that being your people means joining in your sufferings and with all who suffer. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 10 – 11

Readings for this week February 1-5
Click here for a pdf of this weeks readings

Revelation - booklet cover 2

Day 1  – Things Revealed, Things Hidden

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 10:1-4
John has been writing of angels and horses, insects and plagues. At the start of Chapter 10 another mighty angel appears and his readers may be forgiven for holding their breath in anxious anticipation. What will this new angel introduce? His description may be lost on modern ears, but to John’s Jewish audience it brought images of comfort and reassurance. To be “robed in a cloud” was symbolic of God’s very presence. A rainbow around his head reminds us of the vision of God’s throne in chapter 4. Even his feet, like fiery pillars, alludes to the pillar of fire that journeyed with the people of Israel in the desert and stood for God’s personal presence with them and guiding hand.
Once again the Sovereign God, the one who is present with his people, is foremost in John’s experience. Should we ask ourselves if our Father God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things is foremost in our experience? Or are we too often overwhelmed by a whirlwind of events and threats and fears of what might happen?
John is eager to write down what he hears, but a voice from heaven tells him in this case not to write anything. There are obviously some things God does not want us to know now. All we can know is what God in his mercy has chosen to reveal. This too can be comforting; we can’t know everything, nor do we need to. This might teach us to approach this remarkable book with humility.

Questions to Consider
Why does it seem easier for people to focus on the strange and possibly frightening aspects of John’s vision, rather than on the majesty of God?
Do I avoid things I can’t understand or am I comfortable to accept an element of mystery? Why might God withhold knowledge from us?

Prayer
Holy God, help me expand my understanding of who you are through reading this book. Build up my confidence in the reality of your constant presence with your people and your Sovereignty even over the chaos of this world, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2  – Earth Care

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 10:5-7
The angel in chapter 10 stands one foot on the sea and one foot on the land. He embodies the sovereignty of God the Creator over the whole of creation. Sea and land form the two spheres of the earth, and heaven and earth being the two spheres of the whole of creation. And the angel makes an oath, swearing “by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it.” Clearly, the message the angel brings is from the Creator. “Any suggestion, then, that the message he brings will collude with the forces of destruction and declare that the present world is a piece of trash, to be thrown away and replaced with something completely different, is ruled out. When God’s mystery is complete, it will be the fulfilment of creation, not its abolition” NT Wright.
The emphasis on the horrors and destruction pictured in John’s vision has led to the common misconception that this world is doomed and will be annihilated. But the consistently biblical message is God’s delight and care for his creation – not just the human inhabitants, but also the physical and animal world. His purpose is to restore and redeem and renew. Respect for the created order and earth care is firstly and rightly the concern of God’s people. For many eras throughout the churches history an unhealthy disrespect for the physical world, seeing ‘matter’ as inherently worthless or even bad, has allowed Christians to disregard and exploit God’s good creation.

Question to Consider
How might I correct the imbalance that allows the exploitation of the earth?
Is it possible to love the Creator while abusing his good creation?

Prayer
Eternal Father, I benefit every day from your good creation, yet it is so easy to take it for granted. All you have created testifies to your nature and your infinite creativity and care. Help me to be part of the renewal and restoration of this earth, looking forward to the day when you restore all things to your glorious plan. In your precious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3  – Eat Up!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 10:8-11
Our culture has little respect for words. Anyone and everyone can offer their opinion, and communicate it in ever increasing ways. Yet as words proliferate, somehow their worth seemed diminished. But in the biblical world words held great import. “By the word of the Lord the heavens and earth were made…For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm” Psalm 33:6,9. When God put his words into the mouths of his prophets they were not just repeating a message but speaking words that would create a new reality. Words create new situations. They are the means of bringing about the contents of the message.
John receives a scroll and it is not just to be a possession. He is to eat it; to take it into himself and make it part of who he is. This is a vivid metaphor for how a prophet can speak the words of God, only as they have become part of their own life. This is one way God works in the world through obedient human beings. “Prophecy – speaking words which bring God’s fresh order to the world – is one specialist aspect of the larger human vocation” NT Wright.
While not all of us have a specific prophetic gift (although Paul encourages us to seek that 1 Cor 14:1), we would do well to consider carefully the power of our words. Does what we say build people up or pull them down? Does our own self talk strengthen and encourage or weaken and discourage? Do we speak truth or indulge in lies? Just as God’s words were to become John’s words so that they might become reality, as followers of Jesus we need to do more than skim over God’s word or give it only lip service. It needs to be taken in and chewed over, processed, dwelt upon, and taken down into our hearts. Then it will nourish our lives, flavour our speech and blossom into our actions.

Question to Consider
How do I chew on God’s word?
Do I believe words have power?
Can I trust God to speak through me?

Prayer
Father, teach me to value your Word. Give me faith to receive your Word and speak your Word as you lead me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)    

 


 

Day 4 – Witness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 11:1-14
John is told to measure out the temple of God. This is not a physical temple or even a heavenly temple. Remember that in New Testament language the temple of God is the people of God. “…you yourselves are Gods temple…” 1 Cor 3:16. The community of God’s people are to be marked out so that it may be protected from ultimate harm. However in another sense (represented by the ‘outer court’) the community is somewhat vulnerable, as the pagan nations are going to persecute them for a time. Seven (years) is symbolic of completeness, so 3 ½, or 42 months, half of seven, represents brokenness. In 168AD Antiochus Epiphanes overran Jerusalem, desecrated the temple and killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Jews. His rule of terror lasted 3 ½ years, so this timeframe had deep seated significance for John’s readers. “God never promises to snatch us out of trouble and distress but to keep his hand upon us” M Robertson.
The two witnesses refer to a background story of Moses who stood up before Pharaoh and Elijah who stood up to King Ahab. They do not suggest a literal return of Moses and Elijah but are a symbol of the church as a whole, its prophetic witness, its faithful death, followed by its vindication by God. Where the plagues of previous chapters failed to turn rebellious people back to God, the martyr-witness of the church will succeed. This is a central and crucial message. “This is how the kingdom of God, already spoken of in 4 and 5 is to become a reality on earth as in heaven” NT Wright.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean today to be marked out as a community of God’s people?
What aspects of our life as the people of God speak loudest to our own setting?
When have I experienced God’s hand on me in the middle of trouble? Share.

Prayer
Almighty God, you have set your people a daunting task, to be witnesses before an often hostile world. But your great and precious promise is the reality of your presence with us in all circumstances. Help me walk in the steps of my Saviour, Jesus, who suffered and died but was vindicated and raised by our power, and to your glory, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5  – Hallelujah

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 11:15-19
Around 1950 the last missionaries were driven out of Mao Tse-tung’s communist China. As the bamboo curtain fell, deep fears were held for the million, maybe 2 million Chinese Christians. During the Cultural Revolution millions of Chinese died and the communists sought to systematically exterminate the Christian Church. Would the church survive? No one knew. As the curtain began to lift the world was amazed to discover, not a church of a million, but tens of millions of believers. God had been faithful. Out of a seeming death the church had been resurrected, its witness undefeated.
This section is the climax to the first half of the book of Revelation. Remember that Revelation is not a single sequence of events, but is telling one great story from a number of angles. Therefore the great picture of triumph and worship pictured here will be revisited again in the closing chapters. The reference to the Ark of the Covenant signifies that God is faithful to his promises. He has done what he said he would do. The kingdom of this world has been claimed back as his rightful property. He has now taken power and reigns unchallenged over all.
The elders fall before God, singing his praises, welcoming his judgement. So often the judgement of God is seen negatively and as destructive, overriding the things humans enjoy and wish to do. NT Wright says, “This is one of the biggest lies there is. God’s judgement is the judgement of the Creator on all that spoils his creation. His purposes, deep rooted in the vision of chapters 4 and 5, are for his wonderful creation to be rescued from the forces of anti-matter, of anti-creation, of anti-life. It is time for death to die.” This is cause to rejoice.
In 1741 Charles Jennens chose words from this passage for the glorious Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s oratorio Messiah. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” A great crescendo of praise!

Question to Consider
What do you find the most inspiring phrase used in the worship in heaven?

Prayer
Father God, I praise you today, in anticipation of that glorious day when all evil is banished and you reign for ever and ever. Let this vision inspire me to be your faithful witness, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 4-7

Readings for this week January 25-29
Click here for a pdf of this weeks readings

Revelation - booklet cover 2

Day 1 – At the Centre of Everything

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 4
Now the vision really begins – and everything we would expect to go with it: amazing sights, strange beasts, bright lights, loud noises, visions of eternity, a glimpse of the throne room of heaven. Symbolism, strangeness, numbers, creatures, terrifying events – John is taken in the Spirit through a door into heaven and suddenly we are in a world that, especially for us, 2000 years removed from this type of literature, can seem bewildering.
But it is important to note what John shows us here, right at the very start of this vision. The first thing he sees, the first thing he describes for his readers, that he lays down at the very beginning of all he is to reveal and that is to stand behind everything he will subsequently see and relate, is the worship, reverence and adoration of God at the heart of the universe. Wherever the vision leads him, and whatever wild events and creatures we might come across, the sovereign rule of the one God remains at the heart of all that will be revealed.
Strange creatures stand around the throne giving glory and praise to God; the twenty-four elders, symbolising the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles, covenants old and new, fall down in continuous worship. Here at the centre of it all is God and the worship that is his due.
Because there are two things “at the centre of everything” here; the first is God, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Lord. No matter what happens in the rest of the vision, or in our lives and in the world in which we live God is at the centre of it all. And the second is that the worship of God is at the centre of who we are and what we were created for.

Question to Consider
What is your reaction to the way John describes what he sees going on here? What are your thoughts on what it represents about eternity and the worship of God?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, I worship and honour you for who you are, Almighty God, creator and ruler of the universe and all it contains. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2 – The Lion and the Lamb

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 5
Chapter 4 takes place in the throne room of God, giving us a glimpse of heaven, showing us God at the centre of everything, as creation worships and praises him. Chapter 5 remains in the same location but deepens the picture. Heaven is not just the place where God is eternally worshipped, but is also the place from where God’s care and governance of his creation flow. It is Operational Headquarters, and there is work to be done.
God has a secret plan to rescue the world, to overthrow the powers that oppose his will and enslave his creation. The problem (posed by the angel of verse 2) is: who is strong enough and pure enough to open the scroll and complete this rescue work? At first it seems that the answer must be no one. God’s blueprint for his creation was to be enacted through the obedient work of human beings, but they sinned and fell short of his plans. Even the people he chose to put things right – the Israelites – failed him.
But all is not lost. There is one who is worthy to open the scroll, one who is an Israelite from the tribe of Judah. The Messiah will come and win the decisive victory, completing the work of redeeming creation. But crucially, the victory will not be in the manner expected. John hears the announcement of the coming of the lion. But what he sees is the lamb.
The victory won by the lion comes about through the sacrifice of the lamb. The two images are now brought together and from this point on they stay together. The all-seeing, all-powerful lamb has the right to take the scroll and open it – and everything that will happen now follows from this fact.

Question to Consider
What do the symbols of lion and lamb represent? What does it mean to follow a lion and a lamb? How does each of these animals represent how we live as followers of Jesus?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the fierce, strong lion who wins victory through the sacrifice of the helpless lamb. Help me remember the lion’s victory through the lamb’s sacrifice. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3 – Back Down to Earth

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 6
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are amongst the most famous characters in the book of Revelation, the subjects of countless works of art and literature throughout the centuries. Their appearance in chapter 6 signals a shift in the focus of the vision given to John. In the previous 2 chapters we have been shown the glories of heaven, the glory of the throne room and the worship offered to God by the whole of creation. Now we come back down to earth with a thump. The vision shifts to earth and the brutal realities of life.
The scene in heaven was worshipful and joyful there; God is honoured as he should be. On earth, it’s very different. Dishonesty, war, famine and death are to be expected in a world that refuses to honour Christ as its Lord and refuses to worship and obey its rightful God and Creator. Yes, they will be devastating and cause much suffering, and the cosmic tumult represents the pouring out of God’s wrath upon sinful humanity. But as followers of Jesus we should not be surprised or fearful when these things occur. God is calling the world to account for its rebellion. But he is not a whimsical tyrant revenging himself on people out of hatred and spite. He is angry that his wonderful creation has been spoiled but his judgement stems from the love and sorrow and anger that he feels when he sees what his creation persists in doing to itself. As N.T. Wrights says, “[T]he lamb’s anger is the utter rejection, by Love incarnate, of all that is unloving. The only people who should be afraid of it are those who are determined to resist the call of love.” (Revelation for Everyone, p.68)

Question to Consider
Compare Revelation 6:9-11 with Matthew 24:9-14. In what ways does Jesus’ teaching on what will happen in the face of persecution help our understanding of the Revelation passage?

Prayer
Almighty God, give me strength when ridicule and persecution come. And help me to always pray for your other followers in this world who are persecuted for following you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 4 – Sealing His People

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 7:1-8
With six seals now opened, and the (literary) tension building nicely, you’d think that John would be ready to reveal the contents of the seventh seal. But instead, the action pauses and a different type of seal is revealed.
“Until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God” (verse 3). This type of seal was used to show ownership of something, like an ancient ruler putting his or her seal on a letter or a treaty. We aren’t that familiar with this type of seal these days; perhaps the closest many people get is when they use those printed label makers to put their name and address on labels they can stick to things (books, containers, tools, etc.), to show that it belongs to them.
And that’s why there is this pause between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. This little break allows John to unambiguously affirm to his readers that no matter what transpires in the future, God’s people belong to him. God has ‘sealed’ his people. They are marked as his. He knows what is going on and has not forgotten them. Yes, evil will rise up and seriously assail God’s creation and his people. But even this; even evil at its most threatening peak, cannot threaten or derail God’s ultimate rescue of his true people, those now centred around Jesus (note the new position of Judah in the list of the tribes of Israel). This ultimate rescue, and the power behind it, namely God’s reign, is not in doubt. Things may be very dangerous and dicey in what is to come, but God still has his loving, caring eye on his people. He has sealed his people to himself.

Question to Consider
Have you been confused by all the wildly differing interpretations of the 144,000? What does the figure represent? How is this helpful for us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for remembering your people. Thank you for claiming and sealing your own, stating clearly that your people belong to you. Help me to remember in times of struggle and pain that I am yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5 – The Ultimate Reality

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 7:9-17
Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, and seemed so real, that for the first few minutes after you woke up you thought it was true? That what you had dreamed was actually reality, was truly the way that things were in the world in which you had awoken?
That is just the sort of idea that John is trying to get across to his readers here. They are about to go through an absolute nightmare of persecution and they must be ready for it. Things are going to get incredibly tough and the level of suffering and death may very well be extreme. In these circumstances, it is vital that the church communities that John is writing to remember what is real and what is true. The reality of the reigning creator God and the heavenly lamb who has already won the victory is what is real. It is the true state of affairs against which all other events and circumstances and happenings are to be measured against, and is the single reality that they must cling to in the midst of the persecution to come.
Yes, the followers of Jesus may find themselves going through a time of immense suffering, but they will ultimately find themselves in the true reality, in God’s throne room, worshipping day and night with great joy. That outcome, that victory, and the God who brought it about, is what is real and that is the reality that stands behind all else, and that must be clung to in the face of all else.

Question to Consider
How easy do you find it to remember that God is at the centre of reality? What circumstances can distract your focus from this point? Why? How do you refocus?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the centre of all things. You alone are worthy of all glory, praise and honour. May every aspect of my life reflect the reality of this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 1 – 3

Readings for this week January 18 – 22
Click here for a pdf of this weeks readings

Revelation - booklet cover 2

Day 1  – Revelation – Why Bother?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 1:1-3
Isn’t it just too strange, too hard to understand, too scary! If we can put aside all the hype and wild speculation for a moment, we might realise that the book of Revelation is given as a message of encouragement. The book is part of what is called apocalyptic literature, meaning the unveiling of things not previously known. Apocalyptic writings developed from the time of the exile in Babylon when what God’s people needed most was a message to inspire hope.
John, writing from the Island of Patmos, has been exiled by the powers of the day in an attempt to stop his fearless preaching. However exile has provided him time for prayer and reflection, time to receive an overwhelming vision of God’s love and his purposes. One could say that John’s writing is rather like an impressionist painting; it appeals to the imagination rather than to logic. Pictures and symbols are all John can use in attempting to capture the wonder of what is revealed to him in visions. A key to understanding it is to remember it was written during a time of persecution. The message is subversive, obscurely pictorial, in part so that if it fell into hostile hands it was difficult to understand.
John writes in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. Their aim was never to paralyse people into a fatalistic lethargy, but to call for an intelligent response and to urge people to align themselves with God, and become actively involved in the struggle against injustice and evil. Neither is Revelation some cosmic calendar predicting specific events which can be pinpointed in current history. Reread verse 3. We are told that blessed is the person who reads and hears what is in this book. It is God’s Word to us today, just as much as it was to John’s first hearers. So, be on the outlook for encouragement, hope, and a new revelation about God himself.

Questions to Consider
What has been my attitude to Revelation? Have I ever read it?
Ask God to speak a message of hope to you through this series.

Prayer
Father God, please open my eyes and my heart to receive something new from you through this book. May I come to see you more clearly, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2  – Every Eye Will See Him

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 1:4-8
This introduction to the book tells us a huge amount about God. John is worshipping on “the Lord’s Day” when he receives this vision. His mind is bent towards the God he loves. John is a pastor, responsible for a circuit of churches on the mainland, and he writes to encourage them in the primary task of worship. Eugene Peterson writes, “Worship shapes the human community in response to the living God. If worship is neglected or perverted, our communities fall into chaos or under tyranny.”
In the midst of turmoil John worships a God who is eternal, “who was…who is…who is to come.” A God who offers freedom from sin, grants acceptance into his family, provides purpose and meaningful service, and is all glorious and all powerful. This God is the Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet). He is before all things and will wrap up all things at the end of time as we know it. As John begins this record of remarkable visions, his glimpse into heavenly realms and his audience with the risen Jesus, he says that what is now hidden will one day be made plain for every eye to see. It is Jesus Christ who dominates John’s vision. “Everything that is to come flows from the central figure, Jesus himself, and ultimately from God the Father” NT Wright.
Worship washes right through the book of Revelation. It is rightly the glory of God that must dominate the reading of John’s vision. It is not written to incite fear; only perhaps the fear and awe that will cause us to fall to our knees in reverence and praise. Peterson concludes, “In keeping company with John, our worship of God will almost certainly deepen in urgency and joy.”

Question to Consider
Why might John picture Jesus as a ruler (v5)?
How does, or should, worship shape a community?

Prayer
Eternal Father, I worship you as the one who stands before and after time, the one worthy of all praise. May we be a community shaped by your vision and worship of you? Help us to prioritise worship in a society that ignores and undermines the reality of spiritual things. May you be glorified forever, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3  – Standing Amongst the Lampstands

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 1:9-20
John turns to see the voice he hears speaking. This is appropriate since Jesus is called “the Word” John 1:1. John’s record warns us against some cosy image of Jesus that we might snuggle up against. John’s reaction? –  To fall to the ground at Jesus’ feet as if dead. This is a figure of glory and strength and power. John is bringing together images from the Old Testament prophets, particularly Daniel, where at the height of suffering for God’s people, Daniel sees a vision of the ‘Ancient of Days’ seated on the heavenly throne and  a figure like ‘a son of man’ standing before him. In John, when we look at Jesus it is as if we look through him to the Father himself.
“Hold the picture in your mind, detail by detail. Let those eyes of flame search you in and out. Imagine standing beside a huge waterfall, its noise like sustained thunder, and imagine that noise as a human voice, echoing round the hills and round our head. And imagine his hand reaching out to touch you…” NT Wright. Fear may indeed be a natural reaction. But as so often in the Bible the word’s Jesus speaks are, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus stands among seven lamp stands which represent the seven churches (and all churches). And he is saying, “It’s all right.” No matter the situation, the pressure, the persecution, he is right there in the middle of it with us. And he holds keys to death and Hades. He is the one in charge; there is nothing to fear. “To grasp all this requires faith. To live by it will take courage. But it is that faith and that courage which this book is written to evoke” NT Wright.

Question to Consider
What is the problem with the image of a comfortable cosy Jesus?
What does it mean to me to hear Jesus say, “I am the living One?”
Is the image of Jesus standing right in the middle of the churches comforting? Sit with this image for a few minutes.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing yourself as the living Lord who stands with your people and is charge of all things. Thank you, that as I trust in you, I have nothing to fear. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)     

 


Day 4 – Losing Your Place

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 2:1-7
John records a message from the risen Jesus to the seven churches in Asia. While each church had various characteristics, and receives praise, correction and promised blessing, these churches are representatives, so that the message may be applied to any church throughout history and today.
Throughout Revelation there is a constant theme of conquering. The young churches faced persecution from the surrounding pagan society. Emperor worship was dominant forcing the issue of whom one was going to serve. John writes as a companion in “suffering, the kingdom and patient endurance.” It was not through fighting back that the churches were to conquer, but by following Jesus who also suffered and endured in obedience to his Father.
The first church is Ephesus, in what is today western Turkey. The leading sea port in the region of around 33,600 to 56,000 people, it was a centre of travel and commerce. Incredibly wealthy it boasted the Temple of Artemis, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. John established a Christian community in Ephesus and is believed to have lived here with Mary the mother of Jesus. Returning from Patmos John is believed to have returned to Ephesus, written his gospel, and died there. The Apostle Paul also worked and ministered in Ephesus. As late as the 5th century Ephesus hosted several great Christian councils. Yet Jesus’ warns this vibrant church that they stand in danger of losing it all, “I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.” Tourists visit Ephesus today to see the great ruins, but what they do not see is an active church, nothing remains. If Christians are there, they may be in hiding. No individual, so church, no community can afford to rest on its laurels. Jesus delivers a sharp message to Ephesus – we should not miss its edge today.

Questions to Consider
What is the danger of living off past glories/ministries/faith/achievements?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, give me ears to hear the challenges you want to put before me today. Help me not to rely on the past but be ready to follow you today, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5  – Love is a Verb

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 2:2-5
It is so easy to let things slip. Who hasn’t started out the New Year with admirable resolutions, only to have given them up or quietly forgotten them altogether within weeks? Jesus has commended the church at Ephesus for their hard work, perseverance, discernment, endurance and tenacity. Yet they seem to have let go of the core value that matters most. “You have forgotten the love you had at first.” This may have been love for God himself, but it seems more likely that Jesus is speaking of something that people must do. “Repent, and do the things you did at first.” Jesus’ followers were slap bang in the middle of a pagan society, and all the faith and belief in the world would be fruitless unless it could be seen and touched and experienced.
“‘Love’, in the early Christian sense, is something you do, giving hospitality and practical help to those in need, particularly to other Christians who are poor, sick or hungry. That was the chief mark of the early church. No other non-ethnic group had ever behaved like this. ‘Love’ of this kind, reflecting (they would have said) God’s own self-giving love for them, was both the best expression of, and the best advertisement for, faith in this God” NT Wright.
Ephesus, to all outside appearances was doing well. They worked hard and did not tolerate false teachers. They had suffered yet had carried on. But somehow their care and concern for one another had waned. The New Year is not a bad time to take stock and examine what we are filling our lives with. It may not be a matter of adding anything new or trying harder at the old activities. But perhaps we might stop and evaluate what is driving our pursuits. What are the values that fuel our involvement? Who have we been placed close to that needs our care? Perhaps the only vision of Jesus those around us will see is the picture that is projected through the love we show one another.

Question to Consider
Do I tend to think of love as something I feel or something I do?
What would have been the result if God had felt deeply about us, but not taken action to express that love?

Prayer
Father God, you long for your people to be tender hearted and passionate, but also to be your hands and feet to others. Help me learn to love as you have loved us, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)