The Place Where Transformation Happens

Last week, we looked at Revelation 1, which  ends with a vision of the Risen Christ walking among seven golden lampstands while holding seven stars in his hands. We are told that the seven lampstands are seven churches of Asia Minor and the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. In the ancient world, earthly realities were thought to have angelic counterparts. [1] The seven angels are the heavenly counterparts and protectors of their earthly reflections, the churches of Asia Minor.

Following this vision, John records seven letters of Christ to the seven churches. No one knows whether the seven letters were written for seven individual churches (which did exist) or the seven letters are meant to be letters to all the churches suffering under the persecution of Domitian. In any case, today these letters are for all churches and all Christians to read.

As I mentioned last week, John loves the number seven. [2] The book of Revelation, and the Gospel of John, are often structured around sevens. In the case of Revelation, we see seven stars, seven lampstands, seven seals, seven bowls, so that the book itself is structured around the number seven. To the Hebrew mind, perhaps because there are seven days in a week, the number seven connoted perfection. It may be that these seven churches, which historically form a kind of semi-circle of cities in Asia Minor, were meant to symbolize all the churches of Asia Minor to whom John desired to communicate. [3] And, because seven is a perfect number, it is also likely that John had mind that many others would read his letter and profit from it.

Letters to God’s People.

Today, we are looking at the seven letters as a group to discern their meaning for contemporary Christians. While I am going to refer to all the letters and their common teachings, we will be reading from the first and the last letters. First, from the letter to Ephesus:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:1-7).

Now hear from the last letter to Laodicea:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3: 14-22).

Prayer: God, by the Risen Christ you in our midst this morning, holding the stars in your hands and wishing to bless us. Please come now so that we can hear and receive the blessing you intend from the reading and hearing of your word. Amen.

Get Among the Lampstands.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the Gospels record that the first thing he did was to call the twelve disciples who would become his closest followers and eventually carry the Gospel into the entire world. By the year 100, the gospel had been spread throughout most if not all the Roman Empire. The fact that Jesus began his ministry by calling together a group of people who he would disciple, lets us know that the church was part of God’s intention from the very beginning. We know that many people followed Jesus and were his disciples. In addition to the Twelve, there was a much larger group of people who share the earthly ministry of Jesus. [4]

Paul, as he began his ministry, followed the same pattern as Jesus. He seldom traveled alone. He normally traveled with the group of fellow missionaries. When he arrived in a city, he would go to the synagogue (the church of Israel), teach the people of God, develop a group of disciples, build leadership among those disciples, turn over leadership to them, and go on to the next city. In other words, Paul planted churches, including some of the churches to which John writes, using the same method of discipleship that Jesus used.

It is, therefore, not surprising that John begins his vision of the Risen Christ by placing him among seven lampstands symbolizing the church as the place where the Spirit of God is poured out on people. [5] For John, Paul and the other apostles, the church was the place where the risen Christ could be met, experienced, and worshiped.

In the modern world, with our excessive individualism, we tend to think of religion as a personal matter. We also tend to think that we can be Christians without the church or at least outside the church. Some people think that they can be outside the church only some of the time, others believe they can be outside the church nearly all the time, or even all the time. The book of Revelation does not support this kind of thinking. Instead, we are to see that the Church of God is the most important place where Christ is heard, seen, felt, and followed. It is in among the fellowship of believers that we are discipled.

Step One: Remember Your First Love.

The first letter John writes is to the church in Ephesus. The Ephesian church was planted by the apostle Paul. He spent more time in Ephesus than in any other place he ministered. After Paul left, scholars think that Timothy was for a time bishop of the church. Finally, scholars believe that John himself ministered in Ephesus church and had an important role in all of Asia Minor. [6]

The Ephesian church was one of the great churches of the ancient world. It was the most important mission center in the early church. It was the home of great thinkers, of whom Paul and John were two. The church was diligent in its ministry and orthodox in its doctrine. As is sometimes the case, however, as time went by this church began to “lose its first love” (Rev. 2:4). What do you suppose this happened? Was it because they just began to get a little bit bored with the way things work? Was it because they’d been working so long that they began to get tired? Was it the persecution they were experiencing? Was it all the above and more? Probably it was all the above and more. [7]

There are times in the life of every Christian and every church when we must remember our first love. I’ve been preaching for a long time now. Quite frankly, sometimes it’s work. I’ve been a member of a small group for the past seventeen years or so. Frankly, it’s not always as exciting as it was the first day we began to pray together. Over the years, I’ve had to address a lot of problems, and addressing problems is not as much fun as it was in the beginning. Over twenty-five years of Christian ministry I’ve been to a lot of church services, and not all of them were exciting. In more than thirty years as a Christian, I have belonged to many Sunday school classes and not every one of them was taught by the best teacher in the world. I’ve belonged to many small groups, and not every one of them was successful. Sometimes I detect my first love failing.

As anyone who’s been married knows, the kind of excitement we experienced when we were first married seldom lasts for fifty years. There are times in any good marriage when, if it is going to endure, the spouses must remember our first love. Churches are no different. There are times in our lives when we are not going to experience the same kind of excitement in going to church as we did when first we became Christians, or when we were young and at vacation Bible school, or when we were in youth group. This is particularly true during times of stress that we need to remember our first love.

Step Two: Avoid the Bad Stuff.

The seven letters generally contain both praise and warning for the churches. The Church of Ephesus is praised for its endurance and its devotion to the truth, but is warned about its loss of first love. The complaints of the Risen Christ generally fall into two big categories:

  1. Bad Doctrine and
  2. Bad Morals.

The exact heresies that afflicted the seven churches are not necessarily important to us today. They involved teachers who dominated their church and who taught things that Jesus had not taught. The early church had many of the same problems we have today. The church was always under pressure to conform its teachings and its morals to the society around it. Some leaders tried to conform Christian faith to Greek philosophy and went too far. Some teachers tried to conform Christian morals to the morals of the Roman Empire.

Several of the letters refer to the “Nicolaitans”  (2:6, 15). The term is never defined by John, but it seems that a leader named Nicholas, who apparently was a strong leader and may have been the deacon referred to in Acts 6, took upon himself to teach things that were in error. Probably influenced by Greek philosophy, he began to teach that it did not matter what one did with the body. Greco-Roman culture was very sexually decadent. Apparently, the Nicolataitans began to behave shamefully, including at “love feasts,” which were an early form of communion. John complains about the Nicolaitans and about a woman whom he calls “Jezebel” more than once in the letter, who apparently taught a similar error. [8]

We live in a similar time. Christians believe things that a materialistic culture finds hard to believe. We believe in a transcendent personal God who loves and cares for each of us and who exists in a relationship of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We believe in a kind of moral purity that our culture does not easily or universally accept. We are also made fun of sometimes, and we must get used to being made fun of. Like the ancient Christians, we must learn how to maintain or faith in a culture that does not agree with our faith or our morals.

Step Three: Open the Door of Your Heart.

The final letter to the seven churches contains one of the most famous images in all Christian history. During the letter, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me” (3:19-20). The church in Laodicea had become lukewarm. Like Ephesus, the Laodaceans had allowed their faith to grow lukewarm, no longer hot and vital. Jesus gives them, and us, a recipe for renewal. He just says, “Look, I am here. I am always here. I am always knocking. I always desire you to come in and be your friend and share fellowship with you.

Result: Receive the Blessing.

In Revelation 1, Jesus says that he will bless those who hear the word, internalize the word, and put the word of God to work in their lives (1:3). In the seven letters, John and the Risen Christ give a blessing to those who hear the word and respond to the Word of Jesus. In the letter to the Ephesians, he tells them that those who resist the temptation to fit in, live the Christian life, and are faithful to the end will receive the tree of life (2:7). This is a reference to the tree of life in Genesis, which is a symbol of eternal life with God. At the end of the letter to the Laodiceans, the risen Christ says that those who conquer will be seated with him on his throne (3:21). Both images teach us that we need not fear difficult times because if we are faithful there is a blessing to be received, a blessing that extends to all eternity. In hard times, we can hold onto the promise of Christ that “Blessed are those who  hear these words and take to heart what is written” (1:3, paraphrased).


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] William Barclay, “The Revelation of John” in The Daily Bible Study Bible Study Vol.1 (Westminster Press, 1976), 53-55.

[2] The number seven appears in John in the form of the seven signs around which the book is structured and the seven “I am sayings” that occur in the book. The seven signs are generally thought to be the changing of the water into wine (2:1-11), healing the official’s son (4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic (5:1-18), feeding of the 5000 (6:5-14), walking on water (6:16-24), healing of the man born blind (9:1-7) and the raising of Lazarus (11:1-45). The seven I am’s are: “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:22), “I am the sheep gate” (10:19), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25-26), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14:16), “I am the true vine” (15:5), In Revelation, the number seven appears fifty-four times. There are seven churches (1:4) seven lampstands (1:12), seven stars (1:20) seven spirits (1:4), seven seals (5:1), seven bowls of wrath (15:7), seven trumpets, (8:2) and some imagery is often repeated as in the letters where the seven lampstands and seven angels appear and reappear. See, William Hendricksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1940, 1967), 23.

[3] A major issue among scholars concerns whether the letters were writing to seven actual churches or to seven churches as a symbol of all the churches of Asia Minor. Without going into detail, it is my view that the best way to think of it is that there were seven churches with the problems associated with the seven churches, but that John also chose the seven as illustrative of the kinds of problems all the churches had. Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993, 2006), 29. Once again, I cannot for reasons of space give you all the citations to all references on this debate or that inform this blog.

[4] In addition to the Twelve, we know that there were Seventy as recorded in Luke 10:1–24. There are also references to a group of disciples who met in the Upper Room recorded in Acts 1. Finally, Paul refers to 500 witnesses to the resurrected Christ in I Corinthians 15:6.

[5] Lamps and oil are symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. See Matthew 25:1-13 for a teaching of Jesus that illustrates these usages.

[6] See, J.P.M. Sweet, “Revelation” in the Westminster Pelican Commentaries (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1979), 79. Barclay, Revelation, Vol. 1, 58-61.

[7] William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, 57-61; See also, Metzger, Breaking the Code, at 30-32; Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors, at 60-63.

[8] John refers to Jezebel, the Nicolaitans, and Balaam, seem to be symbolic of references to a group of similar errors that afflicted the churches of Asia Minor.In fact, the meaning of Balaam and Nicolaitan are similar, one being Greek and one being Hebrew. It may be that one error is being referred to by John.  In a time of persecution, the fact that Christians would not attend pagan feasts, where food offered to idols was served, would not worship the emperor, and embraced Hebrew sexual morality that excluded much of the decadence of Rome caused the church to stand out and become a target for persecution. There is also some indication that the Nicolaitans were a personality cult and what is being warned against is “clerisy” or the excessive power of charismatic religious leaders. In the ancient world (and today) some leaders  find ways to accommodate the culture and end up theologically and morally compromised. Eugene Boring, “Revelation” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), 92-93.

He is Coming to Make All Things New

There are a lot of folks who make a living prophesying that the market is going to crash, that capitalism as we know it is going to disappear, and that we are going to go through another depression. One writer I occasionally read writes what is referred to as the “Doom, Boom, and Gloom Report.” [1] He constantly predicts economic catastrophe. Over the years, I have noticed that, if you prophesy anything about the Stock Market long enough, sooner or later you will be right—but a lot of the time you will be wrong. The same thing is true of people who over prophesy our ultimate human destiny. We need Godly wisdom in evaluating these claims!

Revelation is one of the most read and least understood books in Holy Scripture. Many of the Reformers, including John Calvin, did not think that the book was helpful because it is so subject to misinterpretation. In every generation, people have seen in the book signs that their time was the end time. Over the history of the church, the candidates for the position of anti-Christ have been many: Nero, Domitian, Diocletian, and other Roman emperors, Atilla the Hun, Napoleon, Hitler, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Brezhnev, and various Russian leaders, Saddam Hussein, and others. So far, everyone, 100 percent of the prophets of the anti-Christ have been wrong. This experience should make us careful in thinking about the end of the world. We need to remember the words of Jesus: “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36).

Revelation was read by its first readers as a word from a divinely inspired leader of the church, speaking to the church in a time of persecution. The writer’s intent was to encourage and strengthen the church and Christian believers, so that they could face a time of persecution. [2] In my view, this is the first and best reading of the book today: Revelation, should encourage and strengthen us in times when our faith is challenged and we feel discouraged. [3]

A Word from the Once Who Can Make Us a New Creation.

Many people are discouraged about the condition of our nation and our world. Many Christians are concerned about growing persecution of Christians in our nation and world. All of us are concerned about the future and desire to be renewed in Christ and to be with Christ in eternity. We are concerned about our children and grandchildren. Therefore, Revelation is important to all of us, and especially when our faith is challenged. With this very brief and inadequate introduction, hear the word of God as it comes to us this morning from the book of Revelation.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.  John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:1-8).

Lord God of History: As we come this morning to look at the most difficult book in Scripture, we do pray that you would open our minds to your Holy Spirit. If anything is said here contrary to your will, snatch it from every ear. If anything is said according to your will, please burn it into all our hearts that we may leave here changed and transformed. In Jesus Name, Amen

The Blessings We Receive from Internalizing Revelation.

Some months ago, I received a request to preach on Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.As we begin, then, let us consider three things about this particular verse: First, Revelation was not written to scare us or make us fearful about the future. It was written to bless us. It was written to give us joy and happiness in times of trouble. Second, the blessings are not automatic. We must read the Word of God, internalize it, take it to heart, and be changed by it or it will do us no good. If it does not change how we live and our priorities today, not just at the end of time, we will miss its blessing. Finally, the time is near. This is the most difficult thing for most of us to grasp about the book, but this third point will help us with the other two points. While the book does deal with the end of all things, we need to remember that the time of God’s coming is always near and the book is also relevant to our day to day lives.. [4]

God is not just coming at the end of history. He is coming now, today, this minute into our lives. The time is near because God is constantly coming into our lives to bless us, change us, correct us, make us new people, etc. One key to keeping our New Year’s resolutions to change and become knew people is to recognize the Jesus is coming, now, today, and soon!

There Are Times When We Need a New Creation.

When Jesus appeared to John and he wrote Revelation, John was in trouble, and the church was in trouble. [5] No one knows exactly when Revelation was written. Some scholars think it was written early, perhaps during the reign of the Emperor Nero (58-68 A.D.). It is believed that Nero persecuted the Christians after the great Fire of Rome in 64 A. D. perhaps attempting to place the blame on the church because he was widely thought to have begun the fire for his own purposes. Peter and Paul were martyred at this time, but the persecution was not general.

Around the year 100 A.D., the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) instituted a general persecution of Christians, including the Christians of Asia Minor. Most scholars believe that Revelation was written during this time. Christian historians record that, during this persecution, the author of Revelation, John, was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, which is just off the coast of modern Turkey near ancient Ephesus. The Romans often used the isle as a place to intern people they desired to banish. John was, therefore, banished to the little Island of Patmos, no more than ten miles long and about four miles across. It was there that John probably wrote the book. [6]

Times of persecution are hard on those who are persecuted. Obviously, people who are not really committed to a church leave during times of persecution. Individually, people who are accustomed to thinking of God being on their side often react to persecution by concluding that God is not on their side. They lose their faith. Related to this, is the fact that, as any organization struggles, there can be bad teaching, poor moral behavior, and a host of other problems. As John pondered the state of his churches in Asia minor while in prison on Patmos, and as he heard from the leaders of those churches, he was greatly disturbed. He wanted to do something to encourage the churches so that they could resist the pressures they were under. While he was praying, and worrying and thinking, what we know as the “Revelation of St. John” came to him.

I think we live in a similar time. In the 1970s and 80s, there was a burst of enthusiasm for evangelical Christianity. The evangelical movement grew and prospered. Many people came to Christ, myself included. Young people felt called to go into the ministry to serve the cause of Christ as evangelical churches grew. In the suburbs, new churches were planted. Some of them grew to be quite large. There was a lot of religious triumphalism in the air among evangelicals.

This time of enthusiasm and growth continued until just a few years ago; however, by the early 2000’s something was changing. Society was changing dramatically. The children of the baby boomers, who were the primary leaders of the evangelical movement during the 70s and 80s, often did not return to their parent’s churches. In addition, the hostility of the media, higher education, and cultural elites to conservative Christianity caused many Christians, young and old, to leave the movement. For the first time, Christians were persecuted for their faith in America. The church began to decline. Therefore, just like the church in the day of John, we need to hear a word of encouragement and hope.

The One Whom with the Power to Make Things New.

Right at the beginning, of Revelation John lets us know the reason for our hope: Jesus the Messiah given by God. He begins with, The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (v. 1-2). If we read a little further, we learn that the giver of the revelation is the “Alpha and Omega, who is, was, and who is to come” (v. 8). Finally, near the end of chapter 1 we hear the following: “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever” (v. 18). Taken together we can see that this is the revelation of God the Father, given through the Risen Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we want to be changed into new people, then we need to listen for the voice of God day by day. God in Holy Scripture, in the preaching of the Word on Sunday mornings in worship, and in the prayerful and humble study of the word during the week to give us all the information we need to become new people. This is the first and most important message we can receive from this book: If we want to be new creations, we need to listen to the One who created the heavens and the earth, who has lived from all eternity, who knows the beginning (Alpha) and the end (Omega) of all things, and who loves us and, as the book says, has given his life for us.

The Book is dedicated “To him how loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (v. 5-6). This is important! Right at the beginning of the book, John proclaims the Good News to his readers: God loves us, died for our sins in Christ, and was risen from the dead to bring us into his kingdom.

The One Who Can Protect and Change Us.

This is a great place to begin talking about the imagery of the book. John tells us that he was on the Island of Patmos, because he was experiencing the same sufferings that the churches named are suffering. As he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, suddenly, he heard a voice and turned and saw a figure (vv. 9-12):

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand, he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (vv. 12-16).

First, the phrase “one like a Son of Man” is a quote and reference to the book of Daniel, where the prophet Daniel has a similar messianic vision. (Daniel 7: 13). Revelation is filled with quotes from the Old Testament. Of 404 verses in Revelation, over 250 of them quote, or make some allusion to the Old Testament. John quotes Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. He refers to Exodus and the Pentateuch. [7]

Second, the vision is of a person unlike any person you’ve ever seen. He has a royal robe reaching down to his feet and a golden sash—a symbol of royalty. His head and hair are white as snow, a symbol of holiness and purity. His eyes are like a blazing fire, a symbol of Godlike perceptiveness, intelligence, and power. His voice is like rushing waters. He walks among seven lampstands, which are seven churches (v. 20). This is someone we need to pay attention to!

The risen Christ walks among seven stars and seven lamps. We are told that the lamps are the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom he is writing, and the seven stars are the angels of those churches (vv. 19-20), In John’s time, it was common to think of stars as angels, and this is the source of this vision. In addition, lamps and oil are symbolic of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and the church is the source of our experience of the Holy Spirit. John frequently uses the number “Seven,” his favorite number in Revelation, which in Hebrew numerology is a perfect number. As you read and study Revelation on your own or with a group, it is important to take some time to understand the meaning of some of the symbols and their source, for they often point to an aspect of the book God is trying to symbolically convey.

All of this is designed to let us know, right at the beginning, that the One who is the source of the vision of John is to be trusted for he is powerful, wise, good, and loves us. The description of the risen Christ reinforces the earlier statement of John that the source of the vision is the One who died and rose from the grave for his people.

If we want to become new people in 2017 or any other time, if we want to find new life, if we want to face the challenges of our own day, we can trust the One who is the lord of history who can “make all things new” (Isaiah 43:19; Rev. 21:5). If we are serious about becoming new people in 2017, then we must be willing to hear the Word of the One who makes all things new, who came and who died for our sins so that we could become new people. We must internalize the message of the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and who is always near to us and who can be trusted to come to us with his love, wisdom, and power in times of need.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Mark Faber, Doom, Boom and Gloom Report (, downloaded January 14, 2017). There are many “prophets of doom” in the stock market and other aspects of our culture. I like this writer and am using him primarily because of the evocative nature of the name, “Doom, Boom, and Gloom Report”!

[2] See, Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993), 15. I recommend this book to any student of the book as a brief, readable introduction to their own study.

[3] It is my view that the book should not be read primarily as prophesy, but as a book of wisdom that can give us encouragement, hope, and guidance during times of difficulty and stress. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 195-205.

[4] The obvious fact that the author felt that some very important things were about to take place is made apparent right at the beginning. The book is, “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1).

[5] See, M. Eugene Boring, “Revelation” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989). This is a good place to note that I cannot footnote everything. All the commentaries agree on a good deal of the book, and I am not going to cite everything for which I am indebted!

[6] Movies often portray the imprisonment as a kind of torture in a penal colony. This is not necessarily what arrest on Patmos would have generally involved, although any Roman imprisonment was difficult and hard. Metzger, Breaking the Code, 25; William Barclay, “Revelation” in the Daily Bible Study Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1976), 14, 39-41. However terrible the imprisonment, the book indicates that John had the leisure to pray and meditate “on the Lord’s Day” (Sunday) when the revelation was given to him (Rev. 1:9-10).

[7] Eric Lyons, “Revelation and the Old Testament in Apologetics Press” (, downloaded January 11, 2017). See also, Martin Rest, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine: Introduction and Exegesis” in The Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 12 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1957), 358: “It has been estimated that 278 verses out of a total of 404 contain reference to the Old Testament.” The author was familiar with the Greek and the Hebrew versions of the Old Testament and obviously had pondered their meaning deeply. Once again this emphasizes the importance of studying the Bible.

Become a Radical New You!

Last year, our theme was “What’s Next?” This year, our theme is, “A New Creation.” For the next several weeks, we are  looking at passages from Second Corinthians, Revelation, and other books of the Bible, passages that help us understand how we can hope for a New Creation, become a new creations, and participate in God’s business of renewing the world and everyone in it. This week, we are talking about becoming a new creation in Christ.

Deep in every human heart there is a longing to become something we are not, to grow, develop, and become new people. This is a part of the image of God implanted into each one of us. God is always making things new, and we have an inborn desire to become new. An important part of the Gospel is that God can do what we cannot do: He can make us a new creation!” In the depths of our hearts, we want to be new people, and we want to help others become new people.

Almost everyone goes through times in life when they wish they were a different person. During teenage years, we sometimes wish we were taller, shorter, heavier, skinnier, had a different nose, or different ears. We are obsessed with being a physically different person than we are. In middle-age, we sometimes doubt the wisdom of choices we made when we were young. We wish we had chosen a different career, gone to a different college or gone to college in the first place, studied harder, etc. We wish we had chosen to live in a different city. At my age and beyond, people often wish they had taken more risks, saved more money, lived differently. In every stage of life, we desire to be different and better. The old saying is true: We are either growing or dying!

Just as God is always active creating a New Heaven and a New Earth, supervising the movement of history into an unknown future, we human beings understand in a profound way that we are capable of being more than we are today. It is part of the image of God in each one of us that we understand that we have sinned, the fallen short of God’s plan for our lives, taking wrong paths. Therefore, we all need to change. In Christ, we have a hope for change and a new and better future.

“If Anyone Is in Christ…..

Our text for this meditation happens to be my favorite scripture. When I was a new Christian in the 1970s this is the first verse I memorized. The center of our text is one of the most famous verses in Holy Scripture. I’m going to begin reading at Second Corinthians 5:16. Hear the word of God:

So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21, NIV).

Let us Pray: Eternal God: As we enter 2017, we want to be new people. We want to experience the new life we can only have in you. Therefore, we ask that come now into every heart, so that we can be changed and made new, like little children and live today that life that will never end. In Jesus Name, Amen.

If you were to go back and read Second Corinthians, you would find that a central theme of the first few chapters involves “life and death” (see, 2 Cor. 5: 5-9;2:13; 3:9; 4:10, 15, 16; 5:1, 7). Paul understood that his life before Christ involved a kind of spiritual death. Paul had been a persecutor of the church. He had been a self-righteous and self-centered Pharisee. He had obeyed the exterior requirements of the law, but never, before his salvation, experienced the life of God. As a missionary, he had been threatened with physical death on numerous occasions, yet Paul understood that he already possessed an eternal life in Christ. Even if his earthly body was dying, he knew an eternal life was growing within him (4:16). Paul came to understand that in Christ he had a kind of life that was more important than his physical life. In Christ, Paul had experienced a new life that changed everything. In addition, Paul knew that the new life he experienced was not for him alone. Potentially, this new life was for every human being.

Dying Among the Living.

This may seem odd, but I think most of us, most of the time, think we are living among the dying. We understand that someday we are going to die, and we know that we are living amongst a lot of people who will eventualy die (some today), but today we are alive and other people are dying. I am in a Facebook group involving my High School graduating class. Over the past few months, a majority of posts have been about one of our classmates who has died. It was not until recently that it occurred to me that I will end up as one of those posts! Today, I may be dying among the living!  What if today we are dying? More importantly, what if what we call our daily life isn’t really and truly life at all? What if we’re dying among the living instead of living among the dying?

One of my favorite parables is the parable of the rich fool with many barns (Luke 12:13-21). It goes like this: There was a rich man who owned a lot of good farmland. He had such a large crop that he didn’t know where to store it all! So, he developed a retirement plan: “He said to himself, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and building are ones, and there I will store all my grain and all my goods, and I’ll say to myself: ‘You have many good things later for many years take life easy, eat drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night, your life will be demanded of you.” (Luke 12: 18-20). The Rich Fool thought he was living among the dying; but he was wrong. He was really dying among the living.

There are a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians, who are dying among the living. The apostle Paul, when he was a persecutor, thought he was living among the dying when he persecuted the early church. He was living and other people, like Stephen, were dying because of his activities (see,  Acts 8:1). On the road to Damascus, Paul learned that the reverse was true—he was dying among the living. Christ reached out to Paul and gave him a new life (Acts 9).

Most of us a lot of the time are busy building many barns. We are building bigger houses, trying to afford more expensive cars, trying to learn new hobbies, getting more stuff, trying to find better jobs, growing our IRA’s, and the like. We do this under the mistaken belief that, if only we had more money, more muscles, more leisure, more rest, more square feet, and the like we would finally experience the good life. But, whether we live five more minutes or five more decades none of those things are really living: They are just ways of dying among the living.

Living Among the Dying.

As the Apostle Paul thought about his own conversion, and his own growth in Christ, he concluded that, instead of dying among the living, Christians should be living among the dying. We should be living out a new life, an eternal life, as we pass through a dying world. Paul clearly understood that the meaning of the Gospel is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus enable us to live a new, eternal kind of life today, right now, in this world, even in circumstances that are less than optimal.

All of us can be judgmental. All of us find it easier to see the sin, sickness, and death in others than we do in ourselves. Paul, who I think was a pretty shrewd person, was familiar with this human propensity. That’s why he begins today’s text with the words, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16). Paul recognized that, so far as his physical body was concerned, the earthly tent in which he lived was in the process of being destroyed (5:1).

Paul understood that a lot of the things we, and all other human beings, think give our lives meaning and purpose do not do so. Success, money, power, health, beauty, good looks, good social skills, good intelligence, and all the rest are passing away just like our physical bodies. In the end, they cannot give our lives permanent, unassailable meaning and purpose. Even though Paul clearly saw this, he did not become negative. He sympathized with the human condition. He adopted a Divine Point of View. He viewed people not as they are, but as they could be by the power of God.

This past year, as I have been preparing for my “first retirement,” I have had the opportunity to ponder the truth that our careers and professional accomplishments do not last forever. They cannot give our lives eternal meaning and purpose. This is true even of pastors and religious professionals. Our careers, like our physical bodies and the rest of the world are doomed. This is why we cannot give ultimate meaning and our ultimate allegiance to our bodies, our careers, our friendships, our nation–to any created thing. All created things are passing away. They are dying among the living.

Into this dying world, Christ came not only preaching the gospel but also living it. Jesus, who had no sin, allowed himself to be treated as a sinner so that we, who are sinners, might experience new life (2 Cor. 5:21). In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul puts it this way: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all that those who should not no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:14-15). Paul understood that sin, human shortcomings, human limitations, human laziness, do not have the last word. The last word is this: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: the old is gone and the new has come” (5:17). Death does not have the last word for those who are living among the dying. By the power and mercy of God, those who are dying among the living can become the living among the dying. This life, the life we have in Christ, is eternal. It never ends.

Sharing the New Life.

In the same sentence in which Paul talks about the new life he has in Christ, and how he is reconciled to God because of what Jesus did on the cross, Paul goes on to say that, because of what Jesus did on the cross, God gave him (and us) the very same ministry Jesus had (5:18). A part of our new life is to share with others the reconciling, forgiving, life-giving, restoring and renewing, life of God as we have already experienced it in Jesus Christ (5:20). Our life among the dying is not simply to live ourselves in a world that is passing away. Instead, our new life involves becoming ambassadors for Christ, sharing the good news of the gospel with others.

In the past year, we have had a lot of experiences at Advent and among congregational members, in which we’ve shared the new life of Christ with others. We’ve had Great Banquets, Salt & Light Groups, and other opportunities. We baptized more adults in 2016 than in any one of the prior twenty years. Our members have shared the new life of Christ with people in need more frequently than ever before. Over the last year, at least once a month, someone has called me to tell me of some circumstance in which they were able to help another person experience the new life of Christ.

Sometimes, we underestimate the impact the gospel can have on another human being’s life. A simple sharing of the gospel by word and deed can make an enormous difference in the life of another human being. We never completely know what is going on in another person’s life. All around us, every day, there are people who’ve been betrayed, taken advantage of, failed in some area of life, suddenly understanding that they are not going to live as long as they thought, and these people are experiencing a kind of death. When we overcome our fears and self-consciousness and share the good news with them, allowing them to see the difference it has made in our lives, we give them the opportunity to experience what it means to be a new creation.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of sharing the gospel in another city and in another place with someone who had been abused. [1] This person was extremely introverted, isolated, and lonely. Over time, attending a local church and being a part of the Sunday school class, this person experienced the new life we have in Christ in a deep and powerful, life-changing way. Today, this person is happily married, has children and grandchildren, is socially active with a large group of friends, and has a great life. Perhaps most importantly, she knows that the life she has today is not going to end with her physical death. It will go on forever. My friend knows what it means to be a new creation.

In 2017,  Be a New Creation.

Last week at Advent Presbyterian Church, Cindy Schwartz challenged our congregation to think about making a commitment to be regular in worship, to grow in Christ, and to serve others during 2017. A new year gives all of us an opportunity to think about the new life we desire. There is no commitment we can make more important that the commitment to worship God, to grow in Christ, and to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The beginning of a new year involves the chance to change. I’ve made a lot of New Year’s resolutions over the years. Some of them I’ve kept, and some of them I’ve not kept. I’ve never felt bad about the resolutions I kept, and I’ve never felt good about the resolutions I failed to keep. There’s something about writing down on a piece of paper exactly what you want to accomplish that helps make the future possible.

My question today is simply this: do you want to be the same January 1, 2018 as you are today? Without new life, you will have the same sins, the same shortcomings, experience the same failures, live with the same guilt and shame, as you do today. Do you want that to happen? Or, do you want to be radically different? If you want to be radically different, experience what it means to have a new life in Christ.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This story is a combination of two stories that were very similar.

The End of our Longing

This is the last Blog for 2016 and the first for 2017. The theme of 2016 was, “What’s Next?” The overall theme for 2017  will be, “A New Creation.” If we wonder much of the time what God will be doing next in our lives, what challenges we will face next, and whether we are able to face them wisely and with love, we also experience the reality of becoming a new creation. Deep down inside, all of us desire to be more than we are. This is the image of God longing to be fulfilled within us. We can’t get there on our own. Fortunately. the Triune God is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!

Certain experiences that are not necessarily meaningful at one state of life are extremely meaningful at another. Some months ago, Kathy and I learned that we were to become grandparents this next spring. At sixteen, when some older couple made such an announcement, it meant little to me; and, I did not understand what all the fuss was about. Now I know.

Having children is always a big event, and it is especially a big event when the couple has had trouble conceiving. We have good friends whose son is now grown. They tried for a long time to have children. They even adopted a child. They were told by doctors that they could never have children. Then, one day, she discovered that she was pregnant. To say that she was excited would be a tremendous understatement!

When other people have children, the pregnancy does not seem to last too long. When it is you and your wife, it seems to last forever. In my experience this is especially true of first children. You have nothing to judge things against. When Hilary (our first) was born, to me Kathy looked ready to have a baby after the first three months! From that moment on I kept wondering, “How much longer can this go on?”

Our theme this year has been “What is Next?” This is the last sermon of the year and of the series. Life is not like a sermon series. We will all continue to wonder “What comes next?” from time to time for the rest of our lives. Yet, at each state of life a “What Comes Next” does arrive. This morning we celebrate the end of our longing, the answer to our prayers as we think about the answer to the prayers of the Jewish people and of Mary and Joseph.

The Birth of the Messiah.

Here is the story of the most important birth in all of history as it comes to us from the Gospel According to Luke:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them, and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:1-19).

Dear Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, come in our meditation on these very familiar words from Scripture that we might hear them anew and be changed as were the shepherds who first heard the proclamation of angels.

Guessing What is In the Package.

As you might expect from the son of an F.B.I. agent, I am pretty good at guessing what is inside of a Christmas package. Guessing what is in a package is like solving a crime. You consider what the giver is like, what stores the giver is likely to have visited, what kind of gifts they like to give, and what kind of lengths they have gone to cover up the gift. It is all “Motive, Means and Opportunity.” If you just read enough Sherlock Holmes short stories, you will eventually be able to guess with s fair amount of accuracy what is in a Christmas package.

It used to be a bit harder to guess the sex of a baby. Except for wives’ tales, like “Girls are carried higher up than boys,” there was no way to know. With the advent of ultra sounds and other tests, all this changed. Now there is no guessing. We already know the sex of our grandson to be.

Mary and Joseph were not so fortunate. Other than wives’ tales and gossip, they had no way of knowing for certain that Mary was going to have a son (other than the advice of angels, which is usually pretty accurate). In a pre-scientific age, they had a good general idea when the baby would be born, enough to know it was soon when they started out for Bethlehem. In fact, it may be that Mary went with Joseph because they suspected the baby would come while he was away on family business. [1] You can bet that as they made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem they wondered, “What will happen next?”

There are times when we have no choice but to wonder how our lives are going to change. The birth of children is one of those times. No marriage is ever the same once children are born. We can wonder that is next. We can plan for what is next. We can hope for what is next. But, we cannot know for certain what is next until the time comes.

This has been an election year. For most of the year we did not know who the next President would be. We could hope. We could speculate. We could worry. But we could not know the future until it arrived. Now we know who the next President will be, but we cannot know what exactly he will do or whether his policies will work. We will continue to worry about and think about what comes next. “What Comes Next?” is, you see, a perennial question of human life.

The Role of Faith in What Comes Next.

It is just because we cannot know exactly what is coming next that we must have faith. We need faith in God for the future. The “faith” we need is hard when our prayers are not answered according to our timetable or exactly in the way we hope and imagine. One of my Proverbs for Christmas week was, “The plans in the mind of a human being are many, but it is the will of the Lord that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21). This is so true! We all have hopes, dreams, plans, and the like; however, we cannot know what will happen in the future. We must have faith in God. We need faith in not any God, but the God, the One who created the heavens and the earth in wisdom, love,  and power. Only a God of infinite wisdom, love and power can be trusted to care for us and show us the proper way to live.

We are told that Mary and Joseph were people of faith. Both faced difficult decisions and responded as people of faith. They listened for the Word of God and they tried to follow that word as far as they could understand it. We are the same. We can only know so much. We can only listen for the voice of God, study the scriptures, and pray. The future is in God’s hands not ours. What we must do first and foremost is have faith, a faith that trusts God to care for us, protect us, guide us, and make our ways straight.

The Role of Hope in What Comes Next.

One natural result of faith is hope. One reason our culture experiences so much hopelessness is that we have lost our transcendent hope—a hope not built on human ingenuity or human work but upon the grace of One who loves us and who understands our weaknesses. I am pretty sure that our politics would be less combative and divisive, and our business and economics less grasping and frantic, if we really and truly had faith that God would take care of us whether our party wins, whether or not we get that promotion or new job, and whether or not we get this new possession we think we need.

Not every Jew remained faithful to God during the long years of awaiting a Messiah. Many, many people lost their faith, gave in to hopelessness, and went along fitting in with the world around them. Mary and Joseph were people of faith and they continued to hope. It just so happens that in their relationship that hope they had was fulfilled.

The Role of Love in What Comes Next.

The faith and hope of Israel was completed in an act of love. John tells us that, “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have Eternal Life” (John 3:16). The birth we celebrate today was a gift of love to us and to the entire world. All the Christmas Trees, Christmas Parties, Christmas Presents, and Christmas Memories of this and every Christmas are but a small reflection of the love that God poured out on the world on that first Christmas.

The greatest thing about faith and hope is that they free us to love others as God has loved us. We are free from the anxiety of believing that the outcome of our lives is totally up to us. We can relax, enjoy life, do our part (of course), all with the love for others that issues from faith and hope. Jesus could love other people unconditionally just because of his uninterrupted fellowship with God that freed him from the fears and anxieties that warp our lives. The goal of the Christian life is love. Paul tells us, “Faith, Hope, and Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love” (I Corinthians 13:13). This is why in our congregation our goal is to share God’s love with others as we have experienced it in Jesus Christ.

Cheer for the Christmas Season.

A week or so ago, on a not very good day, I found a poem by one of our members, Michael Bowman in my inbox. I would like to share the last part of it with you:

I hope this has brought you some cheer/To help you clear away some drear. So, go out now with faith in your eyes,/ And maybe see a miracle that shines through the lies. For earth is just filled with terror and fright/So, we Christians must be God’s Holy Light.

Wisdom without Faith, Hope, and Love is no kind of wisdom at all. The relentless materialism, hedonism, and decadence of our civilization is a testimony to the fundamental truth that without faith, we degenerate into the worst kind of foolishness–and the smarter and more capable the person, the worse the decay is likely to be. However, if we can just remember our humanity and find humility, then “The Fear of the One Who Is and Will Be is indeed the beginning of wisdom.”


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Robert H. Stein, “Luke” in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Vol. 24 (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992), 103-111. Ordinarily, Mary would not have been required to go with Joseph to be registered to pay taxes, though there were some exceptions to the general rule. Joseph probably took her because of the prejudice against her in Nazareth or because she was due and he wanted to be present for the birth. There is no way to be sure of the reasons.