A Picture of the Real Jesus (Revelation 1)

(I do a daily devotional for my church members. We are doing a “through the Bible in one year” reading, and I write some thoughts on one of the passages. I thought some of the readers here might enjoy this one today.)

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Charles Wesley penned the words to this beautiful hymn in 1742. We love this Christmas season because of the cute little baby in the manger, bathed in the star’s soft light, surrounded by his mother, the shepherds and the Magi (a misunderstanding – they didn’t leave until Jesus was born and arrived many months later). It is sweet and sentimental.

And potentially deceptive.

Yes, Jesus was everything I have mentioned. He was gentle Jesus, meek and mild, come to seek and to save the lost. He emptied himself of heavenly glory and cloaked his divinity in human frailty. He made himself a lowly servant to accomplish the Father’s purposes. That is why he was born as a baby – not just as a photo op to keep the Christmas card vendors in business.

But it is a mistake to see Jesus only as he was in his first coming. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that Jesus empty himself to come to earth and become a man. He revealed God’s  and grace to us. But there is more to Jesus than that. Those who only see Jesus as the meek, the servant, those who fail to understand the real Jesus as he exists now need to open their eyes!

Ever wished there was a picture of Jesus, or an accurate painting that showed us exactly what he looked like? Nothing like that exists – we only have the imagination of medieval painters. But there is a description of Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, in Revelation 1:9-20. This is Jesus unveiled, in all his glory.

There are key differences between the Jesus who walked the earth and the Jesus whose picture is painted verbally in Romans 1.

  • In his first coming, Jesus was born in obscurity. The Jesus of Revelation will come in glory and all the world will see.
  • In his first coming, Jesus cloaked his glory, but the Jesus of Revelation has removed that cloak and his glory is on full display.
  • Jesus came the first time to seek and to save. But the Jesus of Revelation comes to judge the living and the dead and establish his kingdom on earth. He will not come a second time to serve, but to rule.
  • Jesus endured scorn, ridicule and abuse in his first coming, but the Jesus of Revelation will strike down rebellious nations with the Sword which proceeds from his mouth.
  • In his first coming, Jesus offered himself to mankind, but the Jesus of Revelation no man can resist. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess – some to their eternal reward and some to eternal punishment. None can escape this glorious Jesus.

In Revelation 1, the glorious Jesus walks among the churches (golden lampstands), the powerful presence of God to accomplish God’s work. Jesus is at work in the church. It may have flaws and impurities, but Jesus is here and the gold will be refined!

I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven gold lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest. His head and hair were white like wool—white as snow—and His eyes like a fiery flame. His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and His voice like the sound of cascading waters. He had seven stars in His right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from His mouth, and His face was shining like the sun at midday. Revelation 1:12-16

Jesus wears a long robe with a golden sash, representing his office as Great High Priest, one who makes atone for our sins (Hebrews 2:17-18), one who understands our temptations (Hebrews 4:14-15), and who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).

His head and hair are of brilliant white. This likely calls to mind Daniel’s description of the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9, asserting Jesus’ deity. It also speaks of his holiness and purity. This is the sinless Son of God on whom there is no stain, in whom there is no transgression. He is the Holy God.

His eyes are as a fiery flame. Hebrews 4:13 tells us that no creature can hide from the sight of God. Jesus has eyes that pierce through the haze of deception and the fog of worldliness to see clearly and truly. He sees everything and judges rightly. Nothing is beyond him. Nothing gets past him.

His feet are like refined bronze, having been fired in a furnace. This is no novice testing out his glory. No, this person has walked through the fires and now has a refined authority, gained through suffering, which has established his position of honor. Before these feet all will fall in recognition of his Lordship.

His voice is like the sound of rushing waters, like the roar of Niagara Falls. It is a powerful voice, a voice of truth and authority, one that speaks words of hope to his people and warning to his enemies.

It is Christ who is in charge, especially of his church. He holds the leaders of the church (here described as stars) in his hands, speaking to his authority over them and his work through them. Out of his mouth comes the two-edged Sword, the Word of God, which is the rock upon which his church if founded. It is our hope and strength. And his face shines as the noonday sun. He is the glory of god in the church. The church doesn’t have to do anything but let Christ shine!

This is the Jesus who sits today at the right hand of God and who one of these days will ride out of heaven. He is the glorious, pure, powerful, Sovereign Lord, our Great High Priest, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Glory of the church who is at work among us today.

Father, may I see Jesus, not just as he WAS, but as he IS. I bow before him and acknowledge him as the rightful Lord of all. 

Why We Find It Difficult to Talk about Slavery

Today I launch a series of posts on the subject of slavery. The thinking that lies behind this series has been brewing over the course of years. Only rarely do I wait so long before putting thoughts into writing. What is the cause here? This subject is fraught with difficulties that impede our discussion of it. I dedicate the initial post, therefore, to an exploration of those difficulties, somewhat in order to try to exalt every valley and lay low every mountain and hill before embarking upon the processional.

  1. It is hard to talk about slavery because we struggle to separate the subject of slavery from the subject of race. This is not a phenomenon unique to our nation or our epoch. The Spartans enslaved the helots. The Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews. For as long as there has been slavery, one form of slavery has been the subjugation of one race to another. Indeed, our English word “slave” is a derivative of the name of a race—the Slavs—who were enslaved.

    We do well to note, however, that it has not always been the case that slavery was tied to race. Jews sometimes enslaved other Jews. Romans sometimes enslaved other Romans. The history of non-racial slavery is as old as the history of racial slavery and persists for as long (sex trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that is based upon something other than race).

    Of course, we fought a war over a particular institution of slavery, and that episode was racial in nature and was tied to a theory of racial superiority and inferiority (as such forms of slavery sometimes are). The racism continued after the slavery had ended, and we struggle greatly to discuss slavery in any way that ever leaves the orbit of nineteenth-century American chattel slavery of blacks.

    That we so rarely and so poorly discuss slavery as a matter distinct from racism is to our detriment. It allows people to defer conversations about racism that they need to enjoin and it hampers our ability to discuss slavery rationally.

  2. It is hard to talk about slavery because we often don’t know what slavery is, at least in any precise way. What differentiates a slave and an employee? What about a slave and a prisoner in the state penitentiary? A person who has been committed to institutional care against his or her will? A child living in your home?

    We deprive people of their freedoms more than we like to think. The philosophical distinctions between the slave and the employee are rather esoteric. They often depend upon conceits like “property in the person” whereby selling your time for forty hours of the week in an ongoing contractual way is treated as though you are selling something other than yourself. Any child can see that you are not.

    We trade our freedom in order to obtain things that we want more than we want freedom. Ironically, if we were unable to do so, we would hardly be free. All of us sell ourselves and vacate our freedom of self-determination in a thousand different ways. Slavery is therefore one part of a larger economic reality. Recognizing what differentiates slavery from other barterings away of our freedom is an important first step to having a conversation about slavery, as is seeing the defining characteristics that differentiate one form of slavery from another.

    Talking about slavery becomes more difficult when we don’t know what we’re talking about.

    For the purposes of this series of essays, I will define slavery as any situation in which another person, not your parent and not as a consequence of any crime that you have committed, gains absolute and total authority and responsibility over your economic life without paying you a monetary wage in return.

    I encourage you to attempt your own definitions. The exercise will help you to see how difficult (and sometimes how arbitrary) it is to differentiate slavery from things that are still common aspects of our lives.

  3. Talking about slavery becomes more difficult in the midst of Libertarianism. I have expressed formerly “Why I Am Not a Libertarian” and taking a few moments to read that essay might assist you in understanding this one more fully. A great many of us have drawn conclusions about self-ownership and liberty without doing the work of delving into the finer points of the underlying premises. To do so is a robustly American thing to do, and it is not an impulse entirely antithetical to the teachings of the Bible, which has a thing or two to say about in commendation of freedom.

    There is always the risk, however, that when we read “free” in the Bible we define it more in terms of contemporary political thinking than we realize. Libertarianism is not a biblical philosophy. According to the Bible, where slavery is wrong it must have a reason for being wrong (in what it does to slaves, or perhaps in what it does to masters). According to Libertarianism, slavery is wrong simply because it is not liberty—no explanation or justification is necessary.

    “Slavery is wrong because it is slavery” is a level above which present-day discourse rarely rises, and as the next essay will demonstrate, this is an idea diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who must be decried by Libertarian theory as one of the great purveyors of evil in all of human history. But more of that later.

  4. Talking about slavery becomes more difficult because we’d rather not talk about slavery. For some people a sense of guilt for the American institution of race-based chattel slavery makes this a dangerous topic that they’d rather avoid. For others on the other side of history, painful recollections of American slavery and its aftermath make the subject so unpleasant as to render it unprofitable to discuss. Some fear that exposure of the problems of slavery will disadvantage their political agendas. Others fear that resolution of any of those problems at all will disadvantage their political agendas on the other side. Slavery has always been a topic with winners and losers.

    Nevertheless, as Bible-believing Christians we must talk about slavery because the Bible does so. Unable to avoid the conversation, we might as well try to conduct it in truthful and helpful ways.

This post is admittedly preliminary. It may leave little of substance to discuss. The greatest value of this post, for my part, is simply that I will refer back to it frequently in the subsequent posts as we meet with difficult elements of the research.

So Long Soloists

 

If we were as nice to the lost as we are to horrible soloists at church we might see a revival. That’s what I was thinking as I sat listening to the weekly “special” that preceded my sermon. It was an awful solo. The words to the song were doctrinally correct but the sound bordered on heresy. I knew what would happen when our resident William Hung finished. Everyone would applaud. They always do. They know not what they do.  With their applause they are inspiring a host of other tone deaf members to take the stage.  As I endured my musical purgatory, a visitor caught my eye. Judging from the look on his face, he either had serious indigestion or he agreed with me. This singer was awful, and everyone knew it. This was church, however, so we would never tell someone they can’t sing. That would be unChristlike, right? But for a moment I began to daydream of what it would be like if we were honest about our singing in church. I slipped out of reality and into my own little world….

The song ended. I stood to my feet and said, “Well, that was a horrible solo wasn’t it?” Silence fell like a blanket over the church. I looked at Mr. Hung and said “Seriously man, you stink. You can’t sing. You need to stop.” I explained to him that God could use him in a lot of ways, but singing solos wasn’t one of them. I looked over the shocked congregation and continued to shower them with the truth. “Every week one of you well-meaning wailers gets up here and butchers a song. The truth is we only have a few people in this church that can actually carry a note. It’s time we admit it. Everyone in this church should sing but only about three of you should do it into a microphone”.

“From now on we are going to have qualifications for our soloists at church. For instance, if you want to sing, you have to have some talent. And I don’t want to hear anything about a joyful noise. The noise I’m hearing lately is anything but joyful. We are going to hold our singers to the same standards as our musicians. We require our musicians to be able to hit the correct notes so we’re going to require our singers to do the same. It’s time we get honest with one another about our singing. Bill, you sound like Barney Fife. Mary Ellen, when you sing half the senior adults turnoff their hearing aids. Harry, when you sing How Great Thou Art, all I can think about is how great you ain’t.”

With everyone’s full attention I decided to offer a little advice: “Don’t ask your mom if you are a good singer. She thinks you’re the best at everything. Ask someone who will be honest with you. Church, we all need a little Simon Cowell in us. People need to hear the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts. But people who can’t sing need to know that they can’t. It’s up to us to tell them.” At that moment people began to look at one another and tell the truth. One by one horrible soloists began repenting of the torture they had inflicted upon countless eardrums. People brought their accompaniment tracks to the altar and left them there. Mothers came openly confessing they had misled their children into believing they were future American Idols. It was so beautiful. Never again would we hear “Is it rewound?” or “Tap, tap…is the microphone on?” Our worship leader trembled, weeping and overcome with joy.

The sound of applause woke me from my daydream. Startled, I realized the solo was over. I was back in reality. I made my way to the pulpit. I couldn’t help but notice our visitor looked as if his indigestion had turned into a kidney stone. With all the courage I could muster up, I looked over the crowd and said, “Let’s be honest, that was awful.” The congregation released a collective gasp. The people looked shocked, some even horrified. Except for the visitor, he was smiling ear to ear. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of that day. They really don’t matter. But if you’re interested, I am available for pulpit supply.

US Senator: Wealthy musicians, athletes, clergy exploit tax loopholes to drive up rates for rest of us (William Thornton)

The SBC Plodder is back!

What do Kanye West, Lady Gaga,  Hollywood superstars, and mega-paid athletes have in common with clergy?

They are all targets of retiring Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s report on special tax breaks. There is a group of several hundred such breaks set to be extended by congress. While the housing allowance we clergy receive does not need any legislation to be extended, it’s locked in brethren, it is of the type Coburn assails as being a special giveaway that clutter our mammoth tax code and that should be eliminated or adjusted.

Ah, the company we clergy are keeping these days. Who would have thunk it?

Look for us to be found among such company under headlines such as,

“The Worst Tax Loopholes in America, revealed”
 
“Greatest Hits Collection of Tax Breaks”

Specifically and pointedly included in the special giveaways for business, wealthy sports owners, Hollywood superstars, mega-compensated athletes and rock stars is, you guessed it, our beloved…

“…parsonage housing allowance,” which he [Coburn] said enabled clergy to build million-dollar homes for themselves while double dipping on tax breaks, collecting housing stipends as tax-free income and then getting the extra parsonage break.

There’s absolutely no argument that the statement above is accurate. Some clergy do build or buy million-dollar homes for themselves and are able to exclude hundreds of thousands in income from any income tax. There’s no question it is a fabulous special giveaway for the men and women of the cloth, both millionaires in mansions and humble plodders in hovels.

Even though the big loophole money is not in our housing allowance, if clergy are receiving attention on this and are being grouped with Lady Gaga and Kanye West maybe it’s time we at least spoke up against the abuses of it.

Here are things that ought to bother all of us about the current system and our involvement in it:

1. There’s no cap on the allowance. This is what Coburn focuses on. Why should a fabulously compensated minister living in a Gatsbyesque mansion be rewarded with tax free income? Why, indeed. Is he a jobs creator plowing back capital into a business that expands employment and production or just a garish consumer? Should our tax code reward consumption in this manner or encourage productive economic activity? Let the brother or sister spend all they choose in whatever manner they wish – but pay the stinkin’ tax on it. Don’t saddle the rest of us with the resultant tax losses to make up.

2. Like it or not, fair or not, we are all being grouped with people and classes of consumers that most of us find offensive. What about “seek first the kingdom of God”? What about “blessed are the poor”?

3. Not one Southern Baptist leader – not Frank Page, not Russell Moore, not any SBC president has a syllable of objection on record to the housing allowance exclusion as presently codified. If you can find some, please let me know. There is no defense of some uses of the allowance. Why the silence from those who ought to object? Self-interest? Concern about drawing attention to it? Some lame, convoluted church-state concern?

4. What bothers me personally is that, invariably, when the matter is discussed I find hard-working, meagerly-paid, obscure and humble SBC clergy spending energy defending their colleagues who are in the millionaire mansion crowd and assailing any, like me, who dare criticize our Sacred Clergy Tax Break. Why? Are we lovable dupes?

Makes no sense, brethren, but maybe you’ve figured out a way to explain all this to the family in your church who struggles to pay for their humble abode while you and your colleagues get tax excluded income to live in better housing. Maybe if you explained how you and Kanye West are brothers-in-tax-giveaways it will help the explanation. Maybe not.

Maybe I ought to take in a Lady Gaga concert, since we are in league with her. Probably couldn’t afford the ticket.

Wealthy musicians, athletes exploit tax loopholes to drive up rates for rest of us