The ordinary course for the believer (Isaiah 6:1-8)

And then the day came for Isaiah ben Amoz that defined the rest of his life. He saw the Lord, and he would never be the same or see life the same again.

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

AN ORDINARY EVENT FROM EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

The circumstances of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord were remarkable indeed, but what was accomplished in this encounter between man and God was very ordinary. When we step back from these extraordinary circumstances, what we see is the “ordinary” event of a sinner becoming a sent one. What I mean is that, in Isaiah’s spectacular experience with the Lord, the Lord brings about “ordinary” conversion. Isaiah began this scene as an ordinary, everyday sinner, aware of the Lord’s existence, but unaware of the Lord’s holiness and of his own sinfulness. By the end of the scene, Isaiah has been cleansed of his sins and sent out by the Lord with a mission.

But the truly remarkable fact is that Isaiah’s experience in the temple is a condensed version of what happens to every believer. Every believer experiences the same “ordinary” conversion that Isaiah experienced. Every genuine believer begins their encounter with the Lord as an ordinary, everyday sinner, but concludes their saving encounter with Him having their iniquity taken away and their sin forgiven.

THE STEPS THAT MAKE UP THIS ORDINARY EVENT

Although it is impossible to prove, it is a generally accepted fact that, of the billions of snowflakes, no two are the same. It is also true that, of the billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are the same. The Lord of the universe has displayed His creativity and power and glory in His creation in small and large ways so that His existence is unmistakable, and men are without excuse (Romans 1:20). And since God is infinitely creative, there are no two “ordinary” conversions that are the same. The details of the paths describing believers’ journeys from sinner to saint vary in practically infinite ways, and the circumstances of their “ordinary” conversions are vastly different, but all these “ordinary” conversions follow the same basic steps. And Isaiah’s “ordinary” conversion will serve as an example.

The first step was for Isaiah the sinner to encounter the holiness of the Lord. In his vision, Isaiah sees the Lord “lofty and exalted.” The Lord is high, and Isaiah is low. The prophet must look up to see the Lord on His throne. The Lord is ruler. He is King. He is sovereign, reigning over all. He fills the temple, as He fills all things. The seraphim cover their faces because they cannot look upon the Lord’s glory, and they cover their feet because the Lord’s presence is holy ground, and they call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” The temple is shaking violently and is filling with smoke. Thus, Isaiah is overwhelmed and shattered by this encounter with the Lord. The Lord’s holiness is too much for Isaiah to bear.

(The second step) The holiness and the power of the Lord not only display the Lord’s glory, but also fully expose Isaiah’s abject wretchedness. In the presence of the Holy One of Israel, every hideous sin is glaringly laid bare and there is no place to hide. Isaiah is thus made fully aware of his sin and his condemnation before God.

With no place to run and no place to hide, all Isaiah can do is acknowledge his sin. Isaiah confessed he was a man of unclean lips, a man marked by sin and iniquity, and a man, therefore, unworthy to even come into the presence of the living God. “Woe is me!” “I am ruined!” “I am a man of unclean lips!” Having been made aware of his sin, the third step is for the sinner to confess his sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9; Luke 18:13), and to repent (Mark 1:15), and to place their faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).

The fourth step is the Lord’s response to the sinner’s repentance and profession of faith. Isaiah confesses his sin and cries out for mercy and forgiveness, and the Lord cleanses his sin and saves him. The seraphim brings a burning coal to Isaiah to burn away his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips,” so the seraphim touches the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips. The burning coal is a symbol of the judgment of Isaiah’s sins. Because of the burning away of his iniquity, his sin is declared to be forgiven. Just so, when the sinner confesses his sin and professes faith in Christ, he receives the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, after the fourth step, Isaiah has been cleansed from his iniquity and has been forgiven of his sins and he is as saved as he will ever be. And it is the same for the New Testament believer. The one who has repented of their sins and has trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24), has been saved (Romans 10:9), has the forgiveness of his trespasses (Ephesians 1:7), and has been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). He is in Christ, and for him all the promises of God are now yes. So, that is where the “ordinary” encounter ends, right?

THERE IS A FIFTH STEP IN THE JOURNEY

But as we go back to the Scripture, we see that, for Isaiah, there is another step in the encounter. For Isaiah to come to a place of faith and forgiveness is well and good, but it is not the reason for which Isaiah was saved. And so, as soon as Isaiah has his sin forgiven, he hears the Lord’s voice calling out for laborers. It is possible that the Lord had been calling before and Isaiah was deaf to His voice, but regardless, now the prophet hears his Lord’s call. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

The fifth step, then, is the disciple’s service to the kingdom of his King. The disciple’s “ordinary” conversion experience is not complete until he has been put into service for his Savior. For this is the Lord’s purpose in salvation, not that we would come to faith in Jesus and receive all the promises of God and the forgiveness of sins and good works prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), and then just sit down in a church pew to enjoy our salvation, but rather that, having come to faith and having been set free from our slavery to sin and having been given a mission to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), we would joyfully give ourselves away in selfless service to the kingdom of God.

And so, Isaiah hears the Lord’s voice and says, “Here am I. Send me.”

The fifth step is the one that lasts the longest. It begins at the moment of salvation and continues until physical death. The fifth step involves the reason you were redeemed. The Lord redeemed you “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them.” All your fruit is obtained in the fifth step (John 15). Your light only shines before men in the fifth step (Matthew 5:16).

But I sense that most disciples are not good stewards of their fifth step in “ordinary” conversion. So, the next article will explore how we can be better stewards of the fifth step.

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2021                   #422

Sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16)

The world today is an increasingly wicked place. At least that is what I feel. Now whenever I go out into the fray, so to speak, there is a faint but tangible sense of malice and of threat. The environment is hostile, and that hostility is caused by a growing wickedness, and I have begun to feel the feelings of the hunted. And no, I don’t think claims of my own paranoia are well-founded. Rather, I believe I utter words of sober truth (Acts 26:25). Satan has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3), although not yet officially revealed, is furiously working his campaign of destruction. Wickedness and overt transgression are everywhere rampant and are spreading like an aggressive cancer. And so, I ponder how I, as a disciple of Jesus and as a child of God, should respond to all this.

The Lord Jesus Himself gave His disciples instructions about this, for He knew what was to come.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Jesus in Matthew 10:16

If I occasionally feel hunted by the evil of our day, what did Jesus’ first disciples feel when Jesus gave them this picture? Here is a picture of sheep among wolves. Sheep are defenseless animals. They cannot run well. They cannot fight at all. They are remarkably un-clever, and they die fairly easily. Wolves, on the other hand, are vicious predators who travel in packs to conquer their prey. They are smart and strong and fast with a mouth full of sharp teeth designed to rip apart the flesh of their prey. A picture of sheep in the midst of wolves is a story that will not have a happy ending for the sheep. And yet this is the picture Jesus gives His followers.

But Jesus also gives His followers instructions for what to do when they find themselves in this seemingly hopeless situation. “Be shrewd (prudent; practically wise) as serpents and innocent as doves.” In other words, realize that the world is full of wolves, and that they would like nothing better than to destroy you. But also know that the Lord is there to protect you. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and will defend you from the wolves. Since the world is full of wolves, live wisely. Since you are a defenseless sheep, live wisely so that you can proclaim Christ’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9) as long as possible. By all means, avoid spending a lot of time in wolf dens! When you as the sower go out to sow (Matthew 13:3), be alert for wolves at the edges of the field.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Jesus in Matthew 10:16

As sheep in the midst of wolves, we realize that our mission of being witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8) is inherently risky. There is an awesome cost, but we have accepted that cost as not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). For the glorious truth of the gospel is that, if I am a sheep belonging to Jesus, I will never die (John 11:25-26). And so, I go on wisely but boldly sowing seed and making known the mystery of the gospel and proclaiming Christ’s excellencies, trusting that He who sent me out is also He who will forever defend me from the wolves.

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #421

Ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches how it is that the “not many wise and not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26)” who make up the majority of the people of God are transformed into ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

5:15 – The apostle starts by telling us that we (believers in Jesus) are “no longer to live for ourselves.” That means that “I” have moved way down the list of priorities. I am no longer consumed with the question, “How can I benefit from this?” I am not obsessed with “what’s in this for me?” My desire now is to be useful to Jesus.

I have been bought by another. My life is not my own and, therefore, my life and its preservation and pleasure are not my concern. Another now holds the title deed to my life. I am no longer the master. Instead, I serve the Master, the Lord, and do what pleases Him.

I now “live for Him who died and rose again on my behalf.” Therefore, my new first question is, “What is my Master’s will?” What is His highest priority? What has He bought me to do for Him? What has He called me to do for Him, in general and specifically?

5:16 – Now we do not assess a person based on what they are “in the flesh.” In other words, we do not judge our fellow believers on the basis of outward appearance or worldly circumstance. It is immaterial if the brother is rich or poor. It is of no consequence whether the disciple is a man or a woman, young or old. Their ethnicity is only a feature of their personhood. “We recognize no one according to the flesh.” Why?

5:17 – Now we see every believer as a new creature in Christ. Whatever came before has passed away. Were you a drunk or a drug addict? It matters not. You are now a new creature in Christ, and new things have come. Were you a homosexual or were you a prostitute? Gone! Those things have passed away and you have now put on Jesus’ white robe of righteousness. You are a new creature in Christ. Were you a thief or a liar or a cheat? Did you have a foul mouth and a fouler mind? Were you angry and hateful and vengeful and cruel? For His people, Christ has vanquished all these things by His death on the cross. “If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creature!” The old is GONE. The new has come.

5:18 – So we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and, having been reconciled and made new, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Having experienced the power of the ministry of reconciliation, we are now to be participants in proclaiming reconciliation to as many as we can.

5:18-19 – God has reconciled us to Himself so that our highest priority is to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to be reconcilers.

Since we have been saved by the gospel, we are now obligated to proclaim the gospel. God has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

5:20 – THEREFORE! What is the reason that Paul has told us about this ministry of reconciliation? Why has he declared to us the glories of the new birth, that if ANYONE is in Christ, they are a new creature? Where has Paul been headed in this passage? Well, he has been headed here! This has been his intended destination. Because we now no longer live for ourselves but now all believers live to please Christ. Because, regardless of the wreckage of our past, we are new creatures in Christ, and the old has passed away. And because we have now received the ministry of reconciliation, THEREFORE, we are ambassadors for Christ. The living God makes His appeal to lost sinners through us. THEREFORE, the disciples of Christ beg the perishing to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is our mission.

5:21 – And what is it that we are to proclaim to those who are outside of Christ? What are we to tell those who are still hell-bound? Here is 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have a one verse summary of the gospel.

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, has died an atoning death on the cross so that all who believe in Him will receive His righteousness imputed to them and will be reconciled to God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us commit fully to our role as ambassadors for Christ and let us fulfill our ministry of reconciliation.

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419

The American Christian and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12)

The disciple of Jesus in America is at a distinct disadvantage because of their religious context. What I mean is that the American follower of Jesus comes to faith and lives out their faith in circumstances that are not only very different from those of most of the rest of the world, but also in circumstances that are in many ways foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. Although the cultural environment in America is changing with astonishing speed, the basic mindset of virtually all professing believers in this country is that being a Christian is an honorable and respectable thing, and that our freedom to practice our faith in the Lord Jesus without fear is an inalienable right. The American disciple of Jesus assumes that, as long as he is not too vocal about his faith and as long as he remains winsome and respectable in public, he will be able to go peacefully to his pleasant, pretty church building on Sundays and worship the Lord Jesus unhindered.

OUR ASSUMPTIONS HINDER US

But it is these basic assumptions which hinder our willingness, and thus hinder our ability, to take risks for our faith. The follower of Jesus described in the pages of the New Testament is one who has already given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; Mark 10:28; Philippians 3:8), so, when they are called to take risks, they have nothing left to lose. The disciple of Jesus has already died: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). For the one who has already died, the risk of death holds but a feeble threat.

But when Jesus personally called the “rich, young ruler” to follow Him, the risk of losing everything was too high (Luke 18:22; etc.). The Son of God in the flesh gave this man a personal invitation to eternal life if he would but give up all his possessions and the man chose the possessions and refused eternal life. The comfort of his possessions and his easy way of life and his prominence in the community and his respectability and his reputation in the synagogue all hindered him from following Jesus. He simply had too much to lose. Eternal life wasn’t worth the risk. Are we any different?

The life of the New Testament disciple of Jesus is a life that takes intentional risks so that his King may be glorified and so that others can enter the Kingdom. The lives of the believers in the New Testament were inherently risky, and the stakes were high. But, generally speaking, our lives as disciples of Jesus in America are intentionally safe. We have been raised in a Christian culture that avoids risks. With very few exceptions, our role models in the American church are not those known for taking risks. Since our role models avoid risks, and since the overall Christian culture prefers prudence to reckless abandon, we play it safe and continue to believe that persecution is something that happens “over there.” We continue to believe that we can live godly in Christ Jesus and not be persecuted.

DENYING THE BIBLICAL FACTS OF PERSECUTION

The background of the American disciple of Christ almost prevents the acceptance of the biblical facts of persecution. The biblical fact is that Jesus calls all His followers to forsake everything for His name and for the sake of His kingdom, but the American disciple, without even thinking about it, translates that into something like, “Jesus wants me to read my Bible, go to church, and be faithful in my giving.” The biblical fact is that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12), but the American Christian immediately interprets persecution as something like the people in your office thinking you are weird because of what you do on Sundays and because they have heard you mention the word “God” in conversations. The idea that simply telling your parents that you have become a follower of Jesus could result in them beating you, calling you a traitor, an infidel, and the scum of the earth, and possibly even killing you, is outside the American believer’s imagination. Most American pastors would consider it absurd if someone suggested they could go to jail simply for preaching the gospel in their church. This is not because their faith is small or because they are not true believers or because we are unaware of the experience of many suffering believers in the world. We have this mindset in America because believers here have been protected, and even lauded, by a constitution that has been upheld ever since this country was founded. Not only that, but Christianity has been and still is the dominant religious expression in the country. Many of those expressions are stagnant, apostate, or even heretical, but in this country, a “religion” that is somehow associated with Jesus is still viewed as generally virtuous.

THE PROBLEM THAT WE FAIL TO READ OUR BIBLES

One of the reasons why professing American followers of Jesus have this unbiblical view of persecution and of the cost of following Jesus is that many professing believers are unfamiliar with their Bibles. In churches where the sermons are shallow and are not founded on the biblical text, and where Bible reading is not an expected part of Christian growth, the congregation will be ignorant of the prominence of persecution that is implicit and explicit throughout the New Testament. An ignorant congregation cannot be an obedient congregation, for you cannot obey what you do not know to be a command or an expectation. This woeful situation of biblical ignorance explains much of the worldly mindset that exists in American Christianity.

The solution for this problem is obvious. A church that claims to be Christian is a church that must preach the whole counsel of God so that the congregation hears the word of God properly taught from the pulpit. Churches that do not do this should repent and begin to be Bible-based churches. But also, the professing disciple of Jesus must hear from his church leadership that Bible reading is an expectation of every Christian, and then must begin to include serious Bible reading into their Christian discipleship. There is no discipleship without active, regular Bible reading. Without the regular intake of the Word, you will not grow.

THE PROBLEM OF HOW WE READ OUR BIBLES

For those disciples of Jesus who do read their Bible, there can be another obstacle, and that obstacle is the way most American Christians read their Bibles. It is hard to put this into words, but it is the tendency to read without feeling the full impact of the passage. It is reading how the apostle Paul was stoned by the people of Lystra (Acts 14:19-20) and they “dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (because he probably was dead!), and then not grasping the fact that the greatest Christian missionary was nearly killed many times and was eventually executed for the crime of preaching Jesus. It is reading how the apostles rejoiced because they were “considered worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name” (Acts 5:41), and then refusing to tell your friend that you have become a Christian even when he asks you repeatedly “What’s new?” It is reading Paul’s great declaration, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), and then hesitating to go on a mission trip because of the possibility of contracting a disease.

We read our Bibles in a detached way, believing that these events in the Bible really happened as they are described, but not identifying them as anything that would ever happen to me. I see the suffering and the sacrifice of my heroes, and I see the world’s hostility against those that I admire for their personal holiness and commitment to Christ, and yet there seems to be a disconnect in my ability to see myself at the end of that spear. “Oh, I could never see myself doing that, but I admire these brothers that have this level of commitment.”

I don’t think that I hesitate overly long over these types of adventures because I am a spoiled coward, at least I hope that is not the reason. I think, I hope it is mostly the collective expectations of decades of “safe” evangelicalism that has rendered me a seeker of safety instead of one who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS: The solution to this problem is anything but simple and obvious. I think the solution will involve diligent searching for a strategy followed by lots of hard work at carrying out the plan. The first step to solving any problem, though, is identifying the problem, and then admitting that it is, in fact, a problem. Hopefully, this article has taken a step in the direction of identifying the problem for the American Christian.

The next step I would propose would be making a conscious effort to say “yes” to risky ventures for the kingdom of God before you fully consider the risk.

Another thought would be to say “yes” to any and all assignments you sense you are called to do without any consideration of the risk. That is, the only question you are seeking to answer is, “Has the Lord called me to this assignment?” Any risk is the Lord’s area of responsibility. Obedience to His call is my area of responsibility.

Another strategy is that of over-commitment. Make commitments that exceed your capacity and then trust that the Lord will expand your capacity.

Another thought is to explore areas of ministry that create fear and stress in your gut.

And I am sure that others can conceive of other ways to turn the average “play it safe” American disciple of Christ into a fire breather who would never shrink back.

“Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” C. T. Studd

SDG                 rmb                 6/24/2021                   #417

Goals and Purpose (Luke 5:11)

In the summer between my graduation from high school and my freshman year in college, my dad introduced me to the concept of setting goals. Dad was excited about the concept and he wanted me to be excited, too. And so, in a manner consistent with my personality, I became zealous about setting goals. If one or two major goals was good, then five goals in every area of my life had to be better. I listened to all the tapes (cassette tapes were big back then) and all the motivational speakers, and I had my system for how I was going to achieve all these spectacular goals. But there was one glaring problem with all these goals: I had no purpose for my life, so the goals were pointless. The goals led nowhere. My goals were arbitrarily chosen because their achievement would boost my ego or would impress others or would please my dad. Or they were just chosen because that goal seemed like a good idea at the time. But without a purpose, or at least a mission, the goals were all pursued in vain. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” And again, to quote Solomon in Ecclesiastes, all these goals were just “a striving after wind.”

In this post I want to explore these twin ideas of goals and purpose so that we get them in the right order and so that we see the difference that Jesus Christ makes in giving us a compelling purpose in life.

GOALS ARE GOOD

It may sound like I am against setting goals, but this is not the case. I truly believe that the vast majority of people in general do not set goals, and I think that a significant percentage of people have never set and achieved a single goal in their life. So those who do set goals have a greater sense of direction and are likely to achieve more than those who do not, or at least that is how the logic goes. What I am questioning is goals without purpose or mission.

But goals presuppose a mission or a purpose because goals only exist to help achieve a purpose. Goals are useful tools for the one who has defined their purpose. You might even say that the purpose of the goal is to help the person achieve their purpose.

A goal defines a directed journey while the purpose defines the destination or the objective.

THE “WHY” QUESTIONS

The purpose establishes the context of the goal. Therefore, it is only with a defined purpose that a goal has a context and thus has a meaning and a function.

Ideally, establishing goals involves answering very simple “why” questions. The consistent answer to a “Why” question about a goal is, “Because (we think) it helps us achieve our purpose.” Several goals may be compared to determine which goal most effectively helps achieve our purpose, but every goal is created to help us achieve our purpose. You can see that goals without a purpose is a fool’s errand. You are roaring down the on-ramp of the interstate with no place to go. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we are getting there in a hurry.”

WISDOM FROM THE CHESHIRE CAT

Having goals without a purpose is a lot like seeking directions without a destination. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice has a conversation with the Cheshire Cat, who is sitting in the tree at the fork in the road. Alice asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” The absurdity of this situation illustrates the vanity of goals without a purpose.

GOALS CANNOT PRODUCE PURPOSE

Just as no amount of works can ever produce righteousness, so no number of goals can ever produce a purpose in life. This is the lesson that I learned after ten years of fervent goal-seeking. I found out that many goals without a purpose is exactly as useful as zero goals without a purpose. It is all “striving after wind.” Without a purpose, goals are useless.

FINDING A PURPOSE IN LIFE

In the plant where I worked for six years as a Buyer, the Human Resources Department would put posters on the wall to motivate good employee behavior. Most of the posters were unmemorable, but one message has stuck with me for almost two decades. The message was:

The first step to getting what you want in life: DECIDING WHAT YOU WANT IN LIFE

As I read the book of “Ecclesiastes” in the Bible, I sense that Solomon’s main frustration was that he was a man with immense abilities and with almost limitless resources at his disposal, but that, for all his remarkable achievement, our hero had not answered the essential question that every person must answer: “What is my purpose in life?”

I sense this is the bane of our age, that most people in our culture have no purpose to their existence. How else do you explain people graduating from college and returning to their childhood bedroom in their parents’ home? What does it mean when twenty-somethings spend their days playing on their cell phones and thirty-somethings are addicted to video games? They are satisfied with a meaningless existence because they never developed a purposeful existence. They are simply biding time.

PEOPLE OF PURPOSE IN THE BIBLE

            But when I look in the Bible, I see that the people of God were people of purpose. In Joshua 14, we read of Caleb. Forty-five years earlier, Caleb had been one of the spies who went into Canaan to give a report to Moses. Now he is eighty-five years old, and he demands that Moses give him the city of Hebron, because the Anakim (the giants) are there. Caleb’s purpose was to take out the Anakim.  

The Apostle Paul was completely focused on his God-given purpose, which was “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).” Jesus Christ Himself had called him as an apostle (Acts 9:15) and Paul was faithful to that purpose to his death.

The Apostle Peter was just an ordinary fisherman on the Sea of Galilee before he met the Lord Jesus. Peter had probably given little thought to his purpose in life. He was a fisherman like his father had been before him, and he was going to peacefully live out his days there on the lake. But when he met the Lord Jesus, his life was immediately and radically changed. In Luke 5, Jesus reveals His deity to Peter in the catching of the fish, and then the Lord gives him a new purpose.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. – Luke 5:10-11

 Of course, the supreme example of purpose in all of world history is the Lord Jesus Christ, who fixed His eyes on His purpose (John 17:4; 19:30; Hebrews 12:2; Luke 9:51) and could not be deterred from reaching His intended destination. His every action was taken, and His every word was spoken to bring Him to the cross. Fixity of purpose was evident in everything that He did.

MY OWN LIFE

            In my own life, before I met Christ, I could not have given you a compelling purpose for my life. While goals crowded my journals and index cards of goals filled my desk drawers, the best answer I could have offered would have been something about wanting to be a decent rock climber, but nothing more. “Why are you doing this or that?” I could not give a substantive answer. “To what purpose are your goals leading you?” I did not know.

            But then, a little more than thirty years ago, on a cliff in California, I encountered the living God, and my life began to change. Now all questions of purpose receive an immediate and confident answer: “Because of Christ.” There may be more to the answer than that, since usually there are details needed so that the answer makes sense, but the essence of every purpose question now begins with, “Because of Christ.”

            Why did I quit my job to live in Russia for three years? “Because Christ called me there.”

            Why did I, as a forty-six-year-old bachelor, marry a widow with three children? “Because the Lord spoke to me and instructed me to do that.”

            Why did I quit my job so we could move to a new city and go to seminary full-time? “Because we felt that the Lord was calling us to that.”

            Why did my company eliminate my job in January 2020? “Because the Lord chose to answer my prayers for greater usefulness.”

ONLY IN CHRIST IS PURPOSE TO BE FOUND

            Purpose in life will never be found if you are seeking purposes that perish. Purpose is not manufactured by your own efforts and it will not be found in searches for material things. God is the One who gives us purpose and meaning. There is great peace for the person who has ceased “striving after wind” and has learned to hear the Lord and to rest in the Lord and to trust the Lord. God is the One who gives purpose, and then we can begin establishing our goals.            

SDG                 rmb                 5/4/2021

A question of purpose (1 Kings 19)

INTRODUCTION

In the opening scene in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” the camera descends through the blades of a slowly turning ceiling fan to settle on a solitary American soldier, sitting on a sweat-soaked mattress in a cheap hotel in Vietnam. The heat and humidity are palpable, but so is the boredom that is projected by the motionless soldier. It is hard to tell which is the more oppressive. Then comes the voice-over: “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.”

As I reflect on my own journey in life, I believe most of my time before I met Jesus Christ was spent waiting for a mission. No, of course, I did not think of my life that way, but in retrospect it seems that I was figuratively “waiting for the phone to ring.” As Pink Floyd says in their haunting song, “Time,” I was, “waiting for someone or something to show me the way.” In the end, my “something” was rock climbing. Maybe it wasn’t significant or impressive, but it was something, and something is better than nothing, and so I gave myself to rock climbing for fifteen years. That was my purpose. Then I met Jesus and trusted in Jesus and my question of purpose was forever answered. Christ became my purpose, and He defines my mission.

I think that purpose is a huge issue for everyone, but it is especially important for men. Men are more driven than women. Men are goal seekers. It was 600 men who rode into the valley of death in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” And purpose is big for men. In sports, athletes have been known to say, “Play me or trade me, but don’t sit me on the bench.” In life, I think the saying for men goes, “Give me a mission or I wither and die.”

ELIJAH IS LOOKING FOR A PURPOSE

In 1 Kings 18, we read of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Before their contest, Elijah confronts the people of Israel with a challenging question: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” In the end, Elijah calls on the LORD to send fire from heaven to burn up the evening sacrifice, then he kills all the false prophets of Baal. It was probably Elijah’s greatest moment.

But then a short while later, our bold and brave hero is running into the wilderness from Jezebel like a scared rabbit. Gone are the challenging questions and the bold calls to the LORD to send fire from heaven, and all we read is that Elijah, “was afraid and arose and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:3).”

What has happened to the fearless prophet?

While some commentators think Elijah is depressed, I had another thought as I looked at this scene through the lens of purpose. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah bursts onto the scene from out of nowhere and immediately announces that there will be a long drought in Israel (17:1). Then for the next three and a half years, Elijah is the prophet in Israel, and his life is all about purpose. He is as powerful as Ahab, the king of Israel, and even confronts Ahab about his wickedness and godlessness. Elijah has been a man on a mission with a God-given purpose for three and a half years.

But now, that has all changed. The drought is over, there has been a bit of a revival among the people as they have moved back toward the LORD, and the prophets of Baal have been slain. The mission has been accomplished, so it is possible that Elijah is wondering if his purpose is done. He may be wondering, “LORD, are You done with me?” Then comes the threat from Jezebel, and Elijah thinks, “Surely this is a signal from the LORD that my work is done. Well, if my work here is done, then, LORD, take me home.”

“IS MY WORK DONE?”

This idea of purpose makes sense as we examine the events that take place in this chapter. Notice that twice the angel of the LORD brings food to Elijah, and the second time He says, “Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you (19:7).” But if Elijah’s purpose is over, why would the angel of the LORD give him food for the journey? Hmm. And what is this journey He mentions? It seems that Elijah needs energy because there is a journey for him to complete.

Elijah’s travels bring him to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the word of the LORD comes to him, and the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:9)?” Now, this is fascinating! This is a question about Elijah’s purpose. “Why have you come here, Elijah?” But Elijah uses the question to express his discouragement. Here is a paraphrase of 19:10: “I have accomplished the mission You gave me and now I have no purpose. Take me home!

The LORD then displays His power three times, in a wind so strong it breaks the rocks apart, then in an earthquake, and then in a firestorm. Then the LORD spoke to Elijah again and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:13)?” Elijah answers the LORD exactly the same way, but this time he is asking the LORD for a mission. “LORD, I am still willing to work toward another mission. Have You still got a purpose for me?”

The LORD then gives Elijah a purpose and a mission that will last him the rest of his days on earth. Armed with the power of a new purpose, Elijah goes out with vigor.

NEED PURPOSE, NO PURPOSE, PURPOSE, AND MY PURPOSE

There are definite lessons to learn from this narrative about purpose in life.

First, we are purpose-seeking creatures because we are purpose-needing creatures. We have been created by God for purpose, and we are adrift until we have a compelling mission that gives us a sense of God-given purpose. So, I would say that every person yearns for a sense of purpose.

Second, until a person comes to Christ for salvation, it is impossible to have a God-given purpose and, therefore, all choices of purpose are arbitrary. It is like my choice of having rock climbing for my purpose. A person may make a “better choice” than rock climbing for their purpose, but it is, nevertheless, an arbitrary choice that will soon lose its satisfaction and its ability to compel me to action. Without Christ, there is no God-given purpose.

Third, all believers in Christ receive a sense of purpose and mission at salvation. That is because all followers of Jesus have been called to a mission (Matthew 28:19-20) and have received a God-given purpose (Acts 1:8). As a person grows as a Christian, that person gradually releases their grip on worldly purposes and joyfully accepts their mission and purpose in Christ. All believers have received a God-given mission and purpose.

Ah, but fourth, there is available to all believers but received by relatively few a purpose that could be described as “my unique purpose.” This is that purpose that fulfills the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). This purpose conveys to the possessor the feeling that, “This is the reason I was born!” This is a life purpose, one that you can continue to do and hope to do till the day you die. This is that purpose that Paul received from the Lord Jesus, and the purpose that Paul pursued until he died. (Give me a life of purpose like Paul’s! Give me a purpose worth dying for!) For George Whitefield, this was that purpose that compelled him to preach the word of God till his life’s candle burned out. For Moses, it was leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. When you possess your unique life purpose, you cannot imagine doing anything else. It is your “terminal” purpose.

Let’s all seek the Lord for our own unique “terminal” purpose!

SDG                 rmb                 4/30/2021

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

A Purpose Worth Your Soul (Matthew 16:26)

What is the greatest satisfaction? What is that one thing that, if we find it, we will be content? Perhaps another way of asking the question is, “What is that endeavor that is worth the cost of my one God-given life?” Jesus stated the problem this way:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?”

This search for purpose has been a persistent theme in my life, especially since I trusted Christ as Lord and Savior over thirty years ago. Maybe I am unusual in this, but I think that many wrestle with these same thoughts: “What am I going to do with my life?” God has placed within us a desire for purpose. It may be our strongest human desire, the yearning to find that great work, that place where we feel the deepest sense of fulfillment. “This is the reason I exist!”

In a way, we are all exchanging our soul for something. When I was much younger, I was exchanging my soul for rock climbing. Although there were pleasures and accomplishments from my years of rock climbing, there was never any sense that clawing my way up crags was worth my soul. I felt a need for purpose but climbing was never going to get me there. Then I met the Lord Jesus and He changed everything. Now my life had a sense of purpose. When I was a new believer, I had not come close to finding THE PURPOSE, but I knew that now I was on the right road.

THE MASTER ARCHER ANALOGY

I imagine God as the Master Archer and my life as an arrow. The target is that place where I feel the deep satisfaction and contentment of living my life fully to the glory of God, of finding my unique purpose. Before Christ, I had placed my arrow in the hands of clumsy archers who were poor marksmen, and my life was being spent in dissipation to no purpose. But now I have placed my arrow in the hands of the Lord, the Master Archer, and the Lord has launched me from His bow. Like every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am now either a contented arrow in flight, useful to the Master Archer as I fly toward His chosen target, or the greatest of all satisfactions, a fulfilled arrow which has found its target and is living out my purpose. I have found my great work (Nehemiah 6:3). My search is over. This, my purpose, is why I exist.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PURPOSE

The Bible is full of examples of people who found their purpose. Nehemiah left Susa and the court of King Artaxerxes to find his purpose. He realized that the work of his life was rebuilding Jerusalem. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down (Neh. 6:3).” Having found his life purpose, nothing was going to distract him.

The apostle Paul found his purpose in the dust of the Damascus road. He was a chosen instrument for Christ, and nothing was going to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” He was a man who had found his purpose, and so he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”

The Lord Jesus Himself was completely aware of the reason why He was sent by the Father and was focused on fulfilling His purpose. There has never been and there never will be a Person on earth who was more intent on His purpose. As He was preparing for the cross, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).” Even Jesus knew the joy and satisfaction of perfectly fulfilling His purpose.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, and realized his own sinfulness (“Woe is me, for I am ruined!”), but he found his life purpose.

The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah was given his life purpose when he was still a youth.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).” “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you (1:17).”

Many others knew the satisfaction and contentment which comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. Amos 7:15 – “But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” Peter was given his purpose one day on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Simon (Peter), “Do not fear. From now on you will be catching men (Luke 5:11).” Moses was a washed-up shepherd in Midian when the LORD met him in a burning bush and gave him a life purpose, to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3). The LORD commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and then gave him the life purpose of leading Israel in to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua 1). Caleb demanded to be given the city of Hebron, because he knew that the LORD had called him to drive out the giants there (Joshua 14:6-15). Ezekiel was also given his assignment from the LORD: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me (Ezekiel 2:3).” And thus was his life determined.  

But I have become convinced that the Lord intends for all His children to know the satisfaction and peace and contentment of finding their life purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” Now, if He has prepared our good works, he must also know the purpose for those good works.

I feel that, after a search of almost thirty years, I have now found my purpose; my great work. I am now writing full time and have never been more enthusiastic about my life. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” If the desires of your heart are to glorify God with your life and rejoice in Him, then He has promised to give you the desires of your heart. One of those desires should be finding His purpose for your life. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” The world searches for riches and fame and power, but the believer seeks the Lord Himself and fellowship with Him. Seek righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and the Lord has promised to add all the other things. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 2/24/2021

Who is the first horseman in Revelation 6:1-2?

OVERVIEW – This article presents a step-by-step exegesis of Revelation 6:1-2. This exegesis employs techniques that are helpful when studying biblical eschatology, especially in the book of Revelation. The article also presents an overview of the flow of the book of Revelation and introduces the idea of three phases: the “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last day.

A tour through the book of Revelation can be a bewildering journey, as visions of dragons and beasts and serpents writhe in our head, and angels blow trumpets and pour out bowls of wrath. What does all this mean? And how are we to interpret all this so that it makes sense?

To help shed some light on how to understand the apocalyptic language of Revelation, I wanted to look at a sample passage and seek to interpret it so that we know what it says.

GETTING OUR BEARINGS

Before we begin looking at the details of Revelation 6:1-2, the specific verses under consideration, we must do our preparation work. We must establish where we are in redemptive history. In what “phase” are we? To answer this question, and thus to complete our “homework,” some background is needed.

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 4-20

The contents of Revelation chapters 4-20 speak about the events in heaven and on earth during the time-period from the ascension of Christ after His resurrection to His return on the Last Day, when He will judge the earth. Then Revelation 21-22 describes the new heavens and the new earth. While Revelation 4-20 addresses the entire time between Christ’s advents, the great majority of this section of Revelation focuses on the end of the age, a period called “the end-times,” shortly before the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.

So, earlier I mentioned “phases.” What do I mean when I say “phases?” After Jesus commissions His church (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20), He ascends to heaven. Christ’s ascension inaugurates a long phase called the “thousand years,” which is explicitly mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. This is not a literal “thousand years” but is a figurative expression simply meaning a long period of time when the church is fulfilling its mission of proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18). During this “thousand years,” the church is relatively unhindered in its task of being Jesus’ witnesses.

But history is linear and is moving toward a definite end. Jesus is certainly coming back and all the prophecies about the end of the age and about His return must be fulfilled. Therefore, at a time determined by God, the “thousand years” will end, and the final phase of history will begin. Revelation 11-13 gives three different expressions for this final phase: “time, times, and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days.” Since these three expressions all equal a literal forty-two months, I refer to this phase as the 42 months*. Again, this is not a literal 42 months, but is a figurative expression simply meaning a fairly short period of time. It is during the 42 months* that the prophecies about the end of the age are fulfilled and the world is made ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.

After the 42 months* are completed, the world experiences the Last Day, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns, the righteous are glorified, and the unrighteous are forever condemned to the lake of fire. Thus, there are three phases in the Revelation 4-20: The “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last Day.

TACKLING THE PASSAGE

Having gotten some orientation to the overall flow of Revelation, we now encounter another difficulty in interpreting portions of the book, which is determining where a specific passage is located in redemptive history. In the previous section we defined three phases, but how do we turn to Revelation 6:1-2 about a rider on a horse with a crown and a bow, and fit this passage into the right phase and how do we understand the passage’s meaning? We will tackle this step-by-step.

First, a little more context is needed. Back up to Revelation 5 and notice that chapter 5 is about the Lamb, who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).” This Lamb is worthy because He “purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).” This is obviously the victorious Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, risen from the grave and now ascended to heaven. He is worthy to break the seals.

From earlier study, we know that Jesus’ ascension to heaven inaugurates the “thousand years.” The breaking of the first seal in Revelation 6:1-2, therefore, must be at the start of the “thousand years.” As a reminder, during this phase, the church is proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18).

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Rev. 6:1-2

 Our attention will now focus on the second verse, since it contains the information needed to interpret the meaning. The questions are, “Who is this rider? What does this rider symbolize?” In interpreting Revelation, it is crucial to find the clues that are placed in the text to aid in discovering the meaning. What do we observe in this text? We see a white horse, and its rider has a bow. He has been given a crown, and his mission is conquering and to conquer.

There are two more important clues that are not in this immediate context. The first clue is to note that, in Revelation 19:11-12, which is the climax of the entire book of Revelation, there is another Rider on a white horse, and on His head are many diadems (crowns). This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ in His awesome Second Coming. A Rider on a white horse with many crowns. The comparison should be obvious.

The second clue is contained in the Greek word for “conquer” (from “conquering and to conquer”), which is nikao. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, all seven churches are given a promise from Jesus Christ if they “overcome.” The Greek word for “overcome” is nikao. Yes, that is correct: “overcome” and “conquer” are the same Greek verb, nikao. This suggests that what Jesus declares to the seven churches (to overcome) is what we see happening in the first horseman (conquering and to conquer).

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

In Revelation, white always symbolizes righteousness. This is without exception, so white is a huge clue. A white horse is, therefore, determinative in associating this rider with Jesus and His saints. We have also just pointed out that Jesus Christ will return on a white horse, crowned with many diadems (Revelation 19:11-12). This identical symbolism of the white horse confirms that the rider on the first horse (6:2) is related to Jesus and His church. These are obvious clues that cannot be ignored or dismissed.  

The rider is given a crown. It should be noted that this is the only one of the four riders (Rev. 6:1-8) who receives a crown. In Revelation, who else is given a crown? In Rev. 2:10, the church at Smyrna, representing the persecuted church, will be given the crown of life, if they remain faithful until death. In Revelation 12:1, there appears “a woman clothed with the sun,” representing the faithful saints of the Old Testament. “On her head was a crown of twelve stars.” Thus, we see that it is the faithful church that is given a crown. It is the same thing in the case of the first horseman. He represents the faithful church and receives a crown.

Notice that this horseman in Revelation 6:2 only has a single crown. “A crown was given to him.” By contrast, remember that Jesus had many diadems (Rev. 19:12). And this is as it should be. Jesus, the victorious Conqueror, is worthy of many diadems, while the faithful church, the representatives of the Conqueror, receive only a single crown.

What is the mission of this horseman on the white horse? His mission is “conquering and to conquer.” “Conquering” speaks of the ongoing, steadfast pursuit of the mission. “Conquering” conveys the idea of determination and persistence. “To conquer” declares the goal in uncompromising terms. The faithful church persistently, steadfastly continues in its mission, and the church will continue until the mission is decisively accomplished.

The rider also “had a bow.” Notice that the rider has the mission of conquering and to conquer, but his only weapon to accomplish this colossal mission is a single bow. The mission seems impossible, with too little ammunition to defeat even the weakest enemy. But although the bow appears to be weak and ineffective, it is actually “mighty before God for the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).” For the bow represents the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The faithful church wields the bow of the gospel to conquer the hearts of men and women and bring them into the church.

THE MEANING OF THE FIRST HORSEMAN – SUMMARY

All the pieces have now been explained and the clues have been examined. Now we are ready to both correctly place this first horseman in redemptive history and declare what he is picturing for us. When the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal, one of the four living creatures calls the church (the rider on the white horse who has been given a crown) to begin her task of proclaiming the gospel (using the bow) for the ingathering of the elect into the church (conquering and to conquer). This task of proclaiming the gospel will continue throughout the “thousand years.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/14/2021

The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”

JUSTIFY OUR EXISTENCE

Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.

CAN I FIND A MISSION?

We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”

THREE KINDS OF PURPOSE

In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose

NO PURPOSE

The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.

A MAN-MADE PURPOSE

It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”

A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE

The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

SDG                 rmb                 1/15/2021