The Lord Protects His Church
“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:1-3
Revelation uses a lot of imagery to teach the church. Revelation 11 is no different and the focus is that the church will suffer greatly in this world. God will protect His church and yet Christians will suffer persecution and even death. But in the end, they have victory because Christ is victorious.
There’s a lot going on in this chapter, but it helps if you understand that both the temple and the two witnesses are a picture of the church.
This temple is the church where God dwells with His people in Word and Sacrament. This is how the church is sustained even in the face of persecution, suffering, and even death. The church will suffer and suffer greatly but it will not ultimately be defeated.
This is the same thing we see with the two witnesses. The two witnesses are representative of the church’s preaching and teaching ministry, that is its prophetic witness to the world. The church calls the world to repentance and proclaims Christ crucified for them.
The two witnesses are even killed in this section. At times the witness of the church will be silenced in an area for a time (and the world will even celebrate this!), but then the church is raised up in that place again just as we see the two witnesses raised up.
The end of the chapter shows the end of all things and the great joy that God’s children will have on that day. The ark of the covenant makes an appearance at the close of the chapter because it is a symbol of God’s presence and shows that His presence and fellowship is possible because of the atonement of Christ.
Martin Luther has some helpful insights into what it means for the church to suffer under the cross. He calls this suffering the seventh mark of the church: Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5 [:11], “Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account.” Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there, as Christ says in Matthew 5 [:11–12], “Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”…This too is a holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies his people, but also blesses them.
How do I find meaning in this life? How do I find contentment in this life? These questions are at the heart of the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrestles with these questions throughout the entire book.
This theme is addressed in the motto of the book: Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (1:2)
This picturesque language does not indicate everything is meaningless. The picture is like that off a puff of breath on a cold day (or picture yourself trying to catch smoke in your hand!). It is insubstantial and fleeting, not "meaningless.”
The idea expressed here is the fleeting or transitory nature of life. Like a vapor, it doesn't last. This is not a statement about the meaninglessness of everything, but rather the temporary nature of life "under the sun."
This vanity is not about the things themselves but about the human heart, which abuses things to its own disadvantage. The heart is never content with present things and is always longing for more. When we get what we strive for, dissatisfaction sets in almost right away. The Bible says this is vanity!
John puts it this way, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)
The world and all of its promises (wealth, happiness, security, etc.) and even all our works are passing away. They are here one day and gone the next. But the one does the will of God is not “vanity”, instead they live forever!
And what is the will of God? “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
It is the will of God that you quit trying to make the temporary things of this world the main thing of your life. That is quit looking for your identity, your security, and life’s meaning in the stuff of this world (the Bible calls this idolatry!). Turn from these things and look to Jesus. Your life finds its meaning, you find your identity and security, in Jesus Christ alone.
How do I find meaning in this life? How do I find contentment in this life? Only in Jesus, the only Son of God. In Christ, even the things of this world that are passing away can have meaning and be enjoyed the way God intended us to enjoy them. In Christ, it is possible to find meaning and contentment in our daily lives.
This appeared in the Pagosa Sun Preview on 5/3/2018.
The Old Churchyard
Pastor Anthony Dodger shared this, and I wanted to share it with all of you.
There are so many beautiful and theologically rich hymns for All Saints' Day. But this song has become a new favorite for me in the last few months. It's an English folk song, performed by the collaborative team Offa Rex, including The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney. It's words are simple but powerful, and paired with a beautiful Celtic tune. Pay special attention to the last two verses.
Come, come with me out to the old churchyard
I so well know those paths 'neath the soft green sward
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard
Mourn not for them, their trials are o'er
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard
I know that it's vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard
But were I at rest 'neath yonder tree
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I'm so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?
Why weep for me, for I'm anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our Savior has lain and conquered the gloom
I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay
And old Gabriel's trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard
Running the Race
These are Luther's insights on Galatians 5:7. Enjoy!
Galatians 5:7 - You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
These words are clear. Paul declares that he taught correctly before and is teaching correctly now; at the same time he suggests rather subtly that the Galatians had been running correctly before, that is, had obeyed the truth and had believed and lived correctly, but that they were not doing so now, after they have been led astray by the false apostles. Moreover, he uses a new expression here when he calls the Christian life a “running.” To the Hebrews running or walking means living or behaving. Teachers and learners “run” when the former teach purely and the latter receive the Word with joy (Matt. 13:20) and when the fruits of the Spirit follow in both. This is what happened while Paul was present, as he testified in chapters three and four as well as here, when he says: “You were running well; that is, you were living a good life and pursuing the right course toward eternal life, which the Word promised you.”
But the words “You were running well” contain comfort. For with these words Paul pays attention to the trial by which the devout are disciplined; to themselves their life seems dreary, closer to crawling than to running. But when there is sound teaching—which cannot be without results, since it brings the Holy Spirit and His gifts—the life of the devout is strenuous running, even though it may seem to be crawling. To us, of course, it seems that everything is moving ahead slowly and with great difficulty; but what seems slow to us is rapid in the sight of God, and what hardly crawls for us runs swiftly for Him. Likewise, what is sorrow, sin, and death in our eyes is joy, righteousness, and life in the eyes of God, for the sake of Christ, through whom we are made perfect. Christ is holy, righteous, happy, etc., and there is nothing that He lacks; thus there is nothing that believers in Him lack either. Therefore Christians are really runners; whatever they do runs along and moves forward successfully, being advanced by the Spirit of Christ, who has nothing to do with slow enterprises.
Those who fall away from grace and faith to the Law and works are hindered in this running. This is what happened to the Galatians; they were persuaded and led astray by the false apostles, whom Paul attacks obliquely with the words “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” He spoke the same way earlier (3:1): “Who has bewitched you so that you do not obey the truth?” Paul indicates here incidentally that men are so violently crazed by false teaching that they accept lies and heresies as truth and as spiritual teaching, while they swear that the sound teaching which they had loved originally is in error, but that their error is sound teaching; this position they defend with all their might. Thus the Galatians, who were running along very well at first, were led by the false apostles into the opinion that they had been in error and were moving along very slowly when they had followed Paul as their teacher. But later, when they had been led astray by the false apostles and were forsaking the truth completely, they were so bewitched by these false arguments that they believed their whole life was moving along and running very successfully. Today the same thing is happening to those who have been deceived by the fanatical spirits. This is why I am often wont to say that a fall from sound doctrine is not human but demonic, from the very heights of heaven to the lowest depths of hell. Men who persevere in error are so far away from acknowledging their sin that they even defend it as the height of righteousness. Therefore it is impossible for them to be forgiven.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 27, pp. 31–33). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
The Christian Life and Sports
This is a fantastic interview with Pastor Fisk regarding sports, our sports centered culture, and the Christian life. Take a few moments to listen: http://issuesetc.org/2016/04/05/3-pop-culture-a-sports-centered-culture-pr-jonathan-fisk-4516/
A place for Pastor Packer to post articles, links, and his own thoughts.