Friday, December 02, 2016

God's Word: Knowing it, living it

From my quiet time with God this morning, what God taught me from Revelation 1:3. That passage reads:
Great blessings belong to the person who reads the words of this message from God and to those who hear this message and do what is written in it. There is not much time left.
Look: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 3:1)

Listen: John has received a revelation, one consistent with the revelation of God given to the ancient Israelites and with God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the crucified and risen Jesus.

He says that the person who dares to read this revelation to the churches of Asia Minor is blessed, or favored by God. One might wonder how favored or blessed the world would regard the reader. John is living an exile on Patmos, an enemy of the state. To be associated with John and John’s witness for Christ would not make someone favored in the eyes of the government or the world.

But then, the Bible always evidences a strange notion of what marks a person as blessed or favored by God.

After the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary to announce that she will give birth to the Messiah, Jesus, Mary travels to see her relative, Elizabeth, and says: “...from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:48-49).

Mary speaks here as an ordinary believer, blessed to have the Savior come to her and blessed too, to have the particular role marked out for her by God to be the bearer of God in her womb.

And yet, there were times when Mary would not have seemed, from an earthly perspective, to be blessed. First, there was the stigma attached to being a mother out of wedlock, something with which she would always have to deal.

Second, there was the knowledge that she was raising a Son Who faced certain rejection. When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and her husband Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, they encountered Simeon, a man who had been faithfully waiting and praying for Messiah to come in his lifetime. When he saw Jesus, he knew that his prayers had been answered. But he told Mary: ““Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

To be blessed then, is not to have everything go our ways. It’s about living in God’s favor no matter what unpleasantness, pain, or death we may be going through at any given time.

Paul captures this idea of blessedness when he writes in Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Jesus shows just how radically different the state of godly blessedness is from the world’s notions on the subject in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
We experience a state of blessedness from God when we are emptied of any dependence on the world’s definition of blessedness or happiness and instead, are filled only with the desire to live lives pleasing to the God Who has saved us by grace through faith in Christ.

Like Christ, we’re called to empty ourselves of concern about ourselves, confident that we belong to God forever and can move boldly to follow and do the will of God, whatever the world may think or say. (Philippians 2:7; Acts 4:29; Romans 8:31-39)

I have not attained this state of blessedness. Too often, I’m like the kids in the “trust experiment”: I trust, but not quite. I think of the radical call in Romans 13:14: “...make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires.”

The public reader of God’s Word mediated through John in the book of Revelation was, John writes, “blessed” because he was following God rather than human beings in boldly daring to share the Word with others. (Acts 5:29)

I want to lead that kind of blessed life.

John goes on to say “...blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it.”  

This reminds me of James’ words:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed [there’s that word again] in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)

This is no promise that everything will go well for us in this world if we do God’s Word, doing what He commands us to do.

In fact, Jesus promises the exact opposite: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We are blessed--favored by God--when we not only hear His Word, but seek to live it and its implications out.

Listen: It’s too easy for me to turn Your Word into head knowledge for me, akin to all the trivia I have catalogued in my mind, Lord. Too often, I’m a kind of Martha (Luke 10), only I don’t scurry with serving dinner guests...I scurry for the acquisition of knowledge not to be more faithful to you, or a better person, or a better citizen, or a better family members, but just to be more knowledgeable. That’s a worldly game and its vain, both in the sense of pointless and in the sense of being egotistical.

Respond: Help me to live out my faith, to do what You call and command me to do: Love God, love neighbor, make disciples. Help me also to live out my specific callings in life: to serve, preach, teach, lead, to be salt and light in unlikely places.

Help me to seek to really live Your will for my life, even though there are times when, like a horse gone wild, I want to break free and do what I want to do.

Help me to read and live Your Word, Lord.

In Jesus’ name I pray. 
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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